Sometimes it can be tough to pinpoint where a band finds success. Is it through sheer luck? Is it through inspired and consistent work? Or is it a matter of selling out by way of a commercial advertisement?
When it comes to The Zolas, the inspired and consistent work is what shines, and, it should be a matter of a time before this band finds itself among the top bands out of Canada.
Vancouver based, The Zolas have been around for nearly a decade. Now on LP number three, The Zolas have worked through a wide array of sounds ranging from jazz inspired rock, to broody guitar rock, to synth based indie pop.
Starting with their piano flooded opening album, Tic Toc Tic, The Zolas showcased that elements of jazz fuse brilliantly with sharp guitar riffs and powerful vocals. They were throwing piano solos at you from seemingly every direction whether you liked it or not, and it was endearing and refreshing at a time where everyone and their brother seemed to had discovered a synthesizer.
Songs like “The Great Collapse”, and “Taxi Driver” showed off the utter skill of keyboardist Tom Dobrzanski, and songs like “Body Ash”, and “Marlaina Kamikaze” merely showed off how dynamic and exciting this duo were. That bridge in “Body Ash”, where Zachary Gray breaks for a solo? Love it. The structure and unpredictable nature of “Marlaina Kamikaze”? Ludicrous. They had no business writing a song that good that early, and yet, that wasn’t enough.
Their follow up album, Ancient Mars came at you with a broodiness reminiscent of fellow Canadian band Half Moon Run. The keyboard was still prevalent, but this seemed to be more of a guitar album. The riffs were sharper, the lyrics angrier, and the tone darker. This was a step in the right direction, and it was refreshing to see a band switch it up after releasing a debut that was smart and layered enough to garner a repeat.
“In Heaven” comes out of the gate with sharp percussion, and a great keyboard melody. This is a tease, as the song eventually breaks out into a furious guitar solo. The chorus, and sheer broodiness of the song is reminiscent of “She Wants to Know” by Half Moon Run. The album never loses pace, as “Knot in my Heart” comes at you fiercely, and “Ancient Mars” and “Strange Girl” remind you that The Zolas are more than capable of writing layered and sharp pop music. “Escape Artist” and “Local Swan” just further add to the body of work, and if you think the back of the record is any weaker than the front half, you’re incorrect. They nailed that too.
Now typically, when a band seems to adopt a more radio friendly sound you may smite them. It feels weird to ditch your well rounded and distinct sound in the hopes of radio play, but I think with The Zolas the decision was a smart one. They had done what they needed to do on their first two albums, so why repeat themselves?
To call Swooner simply a pop friendly album would be pejorative. It’s not. Its full of the smart song construction and harmonically layered elements that have made The Zolas great, but they’ve added sharp production effects, and replaced their keyboard for a synthesizer. It makes sense that Swooner went in the direction it did, as in the context of their discography, their work now feels like a trilogy. They’ve experimented and worked with a wide array of sounds, and none of it feels forced. On an album that is full of effects, it feels organic. And songs like “Molotov Girls” and “Get Dark”, are proof that the change in direction was a good idea.
I personally prefer the sound of their first two albums, but if Swooner, is a low for The Zolas, than it should be a matter of time before they become a Canadian household name.
With The Zolas performing tonight at The Opera House, which is sure to be a magnificent show, I urge you to get a taste of this well rounded and motivated duo. Their music is smart, fun, catchy, and inspired. You’d be hard pressed to find a more musically inclined band out of Canada right now.
You’ll love The Zolas, if you like Half Moon Run, Said the Whale, and new Tokyo Police Club.