There are right and wrong ways to go out. If your usual weekend ceremony consists of nothing more than barcrawling and hoping the band is worth five bucks before you spark a bowl on the patio, it might be time you gave Strange Relations a listen.
The trio’s new EP, Going Out, doubles down on their post-punk “diary rock” sound with confessional lyrics about the inevitable stasis that comes with the cycles of going out, when nighttime escapism becomes something to escape from itself.
On lead single “Ceremonies,” drummer/lyricist Casey Sowa moodily sings, "It feels like I can’t feel enough anymore” over a pulsating dance-punk beat. Multi-instrumentalist Marisa Helgeson lifts the tune into a blurry atmosphere with her cloud-like synth lines. Guitarist Nate Hart-Andersen’s cascading, reverb-tipped leads gives the song a sense of distance, emphasizing Sowa’s ghostly delivery.
Throughout Going Out, Strange Relations — winners of City Pages' Best Rock Band of 2015 prize — broadcast snippets of the millennial fog, that haze that surrounds every memory of a good time in your 20s.
Instead of stewing in the melancholic nostalgia, the EP showcases a yearning to break free from the disconnect of modern mindlessness. That could mean quitting a day job on “Drift,” embracing animalistic confidence on “Predation,” or shrugging off alt-bro culture on “Weeknites.”
Though Sowa’s delivers her vocals with a melancholic sigh, the brooding shoegaze threesome has a sense of purpose. They ask listeners to join them in working past frustrations, to embrace that forgotten art of being present and mindful in your community.
It wasn’t easy to get to that IDGAF attitude. Since starting Strange Relations in 2012, Sowa is no longer afraid to call out shitty behavior in the Twin Cities music scene.
“I’ve been known to get in people’s faces,” Sowa says. She shares her willingness to speak out against negative aspects of the scene's culture with her bandmates, and all three keep one another in check regarding how their behavior affects their community.
“People think that just because they wear punk jean jackets with patches that they’re above bros who play lacrosse,” Hart-Andersen says.
Sure, drinking tallboys at a punk show can be fun. But the members of Strange Relations feel disenchanted with the current state of social media activism, where it's easy to seem progressive without actually engaging the real world.
“There’s a gap between actual reality versus the media’s filter that we engage reality though,” Hart-Andersen says. “With people engaging the world primarily through social media, the world almost ends up being secondary to the social media aspect of the world.”
As a queer woman, Sowa hopes Going Out will inspire people to be more respectful of intersectional identities when they're, well, going out.
“Be a progressive person and an ally for real. Not just online. Get out there,” she says. “You’re never going to break from that disconnection and escapism and numbing otherwise.”
While songs like “Ceremonies” and “Drift” come off as jaded ruminations, the band members stress that their message is encouraging. The aim? To take down the self-congratulatory nature of rock shows and open the music scene up to hosting engaging, critical conversations.
“You can’t connect to people if all you're doing is exchanging approval,” Helgeson says. “That’s now how artistic relationships or human relationships are formed.”
Sowa says she used to feel insecure about critiquing elements of the music scene. On Going Out, however, she’s moving past those fears.
“It’s just about being real. You can’t advance anything if you won’t get real about where we can grow. It’s not about being a hater, it’s not being ungrateful," she says. "I want to be a part of the conversation that’s trying to progress things for real, and not just be content with the way things are. When we see room for improvement, speak to it.”
The band’s musicality reflects their yearning for creative growth. All three players can pull each song in a different direction; Hart-Andersen likens the dynamic to a performance he once saw of a woman precariously balancing objects on a whale bone.
“The magical moment comes from removing the feather at the end, causing the entire thing to collapse,” Hart-Andersen says. “When you’re in a three-piece band, there’s that same element. If you took away the bass part, then the song would fall apart, or if you took away Casey’s vocals, then the song will fall apart. Everything is balancing on each other.”
From last year’s -CENTRISM full-length to their latest EP, Strange Relations have mastered their frenetic balancing act. But the balances they strike are often off-kilter. Going Out is the sound of three individual artists playfully pushing the songs forward through Sowa’s fragile lens, pushing one another forward to a create controlled yet chaotic punk.
“It’s like something spinning off balance,” Helgeson says. “Structural instability in motion.”
With: Murder Shoes, Catbath, Kelvin Wailey
When: 9 p.m. Sat., July 15.
Where: Kitty Cat Klub, 315 14th Ave. SE, Minneapolis.
Tickets: $5; more info here.