It’s only been a few months since Strange Names landed in New York City, but the time for this daring pop trio has most definitely come. On May 18, 2015, this triumvirate of twenty-somethings—Fletcher Aleckson, Francis Ximenez and Liam Benzvi—released Use Your Time Wisely, a firecracker debut LP jammed with energetic, angular, romantic songs that sound at once ageless and completely contemporary.
The band came together while Ximenez and Benzvi were students at the University Of Minnesota; they were each part of other groups but ditched them to play together. The pair cycled through a series of bassists and drummers, until after their fifth show Aleckson approached them and said, “Francis, you know what the problem is here. Give me a call when you want to upgrade.” With that, the group cemented itself as a three-piece and one of the Twin Cities’ most talked-about acts until, with an eye toward bigger things—and graduation over and done with—the band picked up and moved to New York.
While Strange Names’ rambunctious sound and sly take on modern life is completely of the moment, the band, which came together amidst the close-knit Minneapolis music scene, can’t help but see their first record as something of a second chance. “This record was fully recorded back in Minneapolis and then we re-recorded it when we got to New York,” Benzvi explains. “And this one is so much better. We wanted to get it right; we had to.” What they ended up with was a collection of TK driving songs that are deceptively simple, raucously compelling and defiantly youthful.
The album’s first single, “Ricochet,” is a prime example. “There are some songs on the record with profound lyrics that come from a place of great pain,” explains Ximenez, “but this song’s lyrics are just about trying to get with someone at a party.” There’s more to it than just getting laid, however: The song addresses the push-and-pull of ideas and of people; it addresses the contradictions of love and lust—and you can dance to it.
Other tracks, like the unforgettable “Neighborhood,” use a similarly easy-to-swallow delivery to take on the idea of finding your place in the world. But nothing ever gets too heavy. Indeed, the guys strive to echo the inclusive vibe of the New Wave bands they love, groups like the B-52s, Human League and the Talking Heads that didn’t leave anyone out of their party. “We’re always fighting the avant-garde within us,” Ximenez says with a smile. “We’re trying to find a middle ground where the music sounds like us but is still accessible.”
The band recorded Use Your Time Wisely, at The End in Brooklyn, New York, with producer Andrew Maury, and found the sort of sound they think best fits their music. “When we first recorded, we did it in a large studio and it came out sounding kind of garage rock, even though that’s not our style,” Benzvi explains. This new process was in a small room, something real cozy like a blown-up version of recording in a bedroom, and we got a really clean and controlled sound.”
Since they first posted demo tracks online, buzz around Strange Names has been growing steadily. Ximenez recalls, “There was a moment in the first semester of our senior year when we were finishing our degrees but didn’t know what we were going to do with ourselves. At the same time, we’d been making music and as soon as we put it up online, we started getting emails asking, ‘What is this.’” What those early adopters heard was the beginning of something exciting, energetic and undeniably enjoyable. Now, with the release of Use Your Time Wisely, Strange Names has made an album that not only holds on to the dynamism that’s been apparent since those early tracks but also displays their progress and undeniable forward momentum. It’s something they think has been meant to be since they first started out. “It just seemed right,” Benzvi says. “It was what was supposed to happen.”