By Connor Schwanke
Artist: The Zolas
Label: Light Organ Records
Release Date: March 4, 2016
While heading south from their base at Vancouver to their two shows at SXSW, The Zolas have begun cultivating their rebranding. The band’s sprouting began as Zachary Gray and Tom Dobrzanski broke away from their old band Lotus Child. Their first release in 2009, called Tic Toc Tic, quickly gained attention as it shot out signal flares from the XM radio station, The Verge, which heavily and quickly rotated four of the songs off the album. The plays lasted for two years, achieving a nomination for Album of the Year for The Verge XM Awards in 2011. Their 2012 album, Ancient Mars, set off some kindling, but remained slow-burning. After this hackneyed sophomore album, The Zolas was able to turn their attention to one of their other ambitions. In a statement on their website regarding the release of their third LP, Swooner, The Zolas stated, “We wanted to make a weird, catchy pop album that says something.” Coming from an indie rock band, statements like these raise the red flags of a sell out, so with the threat of a sell out album looming, I took to the CD player.
When it comes to rebranding, the first ten seconds of an album is a defining deal. In this case, The Zolas proudly boasts their new sound by filling those ten seconds with a massive, pendulum-swinging sawtooth. At the ten second cue, a four-to-the-floor drum beat joins while introducing the Rivers Cuomo style vocals. At the end of the short verse, Zachary Gray lets off a “woop”, and it launches into a slamming, full-band groove. The first track alone answers all the questions of what they meant by “pop”. Swooner voids the awful connotation of pop that is brought to you by the verse/chorus restrictive, melody only style found in the bubbliest of mainstream pop. Rather, their definition of pop is the use of solid modern production to drive their musical ideas through the speakers even harder. They rely on heavy production to induce different textures that the album transitions through tastefully and dynamically. The beginning of the second track quickly recalls Gray’s guitar, pulling The Zolas back to their upbringing, as their declaratory first track sonics transitions to their new brand.
The Zolas still demonstrate a songwriting product of guitar and piano indie rock, but this time it’s embellished with regular substitutions of synth pads, drum machines, arpeggiators, and eurodance-style vocal samples. This album is an important indicator of the unfair connotation of pop music, and I think The Zolas departure from past LPs should earn them success.