Once in awhile, there’s an album that comes along that fits in perfectly with where you’re at in your life; an album swirling with songs that make up your own personal soundtrack. Songs you can take long drives in your car to in the height of summer with your best friends, blasting at the highest possible volume. Others are perfect for you to jam to in your bedroom, Risky Business-style. It’s the kind of album that feels like it was written just for you.
Canadian indie-rockers The Zolas have dared to make their foray into the pop world with Swooner (March 4, 2016 via Light Organ Records), as they come off of a past wave of indie rock driven albums. The expertly-executed third record is a call to get out on the dance floor and let loose. The record doesn’t have to try to persuade the listeners to fall in head-over-heels in love with the new sound; there’s something for everyone. Layered synths, energetically charged guitar, a splash of mellow piano and clear, controlled vocals. It’s safe to say The Zolas have broken out of their threshold.
The duo of Zach Gray (vocals) and Tom Dobrzanski (piano/vocals) have expanded the band with the permanent addition of Dwight Abell (bass) and Cody Hiles (drums). If the new line-up has anything to do with the band’s new sound, fans can jump for joy.
Watch: “Molotov Girls” – The Zolas
“Molotov Girls” is the perfect upbeat opening song for such a record. The happy-go-lucky chorus is one that echoes in your head all day:
We’re molotov girls
And we’re alright
Dance it out until the streets heed the night
So tired of being told to keep polite
This is called being alive
It’s undeniably catchy, which is why it sets the tone for what’s to follow. It’s anthemic pop in all its quirky glory, with the listener tasting the enthusiasm on each verse. Coming off of the “black coat, pink balaclava” scene, one eagerly fast forwards to the second track, the edgy pop ballad, “Swooner” where Gray belts out:
Someone like you don’t come around every dynasty
A swooner, that’s what you are
Watch: “Swooner” – The Zolas
Funky, fun, colourful, and steeped in lovesick lyricism – who knew lust could be so whimsical? With a grungy, synth-y, psychedelic feel, “Swooner” prepares the listeners for an odyssey of high spirits. It is fueled by electric guitar riffs that reverberate and jangle with ease, pulsating through a musical landscape soaked in optimism and cheeriness.
There’s a cheeky back and forth commentary with one line in particular:
That incandescent girl of Incan descent
It’s this type of humor that separates The Zolas from other bands, in those striking moments of pure clarity where one can gauge the band is truly having fun with the music they’re making.
The track “Get Dark” is a literal journey across the city of Toronto with a ’90s vibe that gives off hints of Third Eye Blind. It’s an adrenaline infused call for a nighttime escapade that and paints a vivid picture in one’s mind. It’s the song you listen to when it’s last-call at a downtown indie bar, falling in love with the stranger you met only about an hour ago. Then you spontaneously decide to party the night away until dawn, catapulted through the darkness by youthful buoyancy.
Down for getting dark cause the dark gets me
Maybe The Zolas are taking that concept to heart. Instead of being swallowed by the darkness, it’s where they come alive.
Swooner is a daringly feminist album that attempts to subvert the ideology of the male gaze, with the appropriately titled song “Male Gaze.” Originating from cinema, the male gaze is classified as the way that women are objectified by the way art is visually structured around a masculine point of view. However, the gaze can be negated – even reversed – which is exactly what the band aims to do with the testament to strong women.
Listen: “Male Gaze” – The Zolas
The track is easily the strongest song on the record, thanks to jolting guitar riffs that explode and an eruptive bridge that stuns. It’s an expertly executed song with a killer hook that makes you want to take someone’s hand and spin aimlessly, letting go of your troubles.
At one point Gray sings:
I play her body like a feminine Nintendo
He ironically boasts about the female body to be seen as both a game and a prize, while simultaneously suggesting video games such as Nintendo are inherently masculine. It’s this hyper-visibility that prompts the listener to re-examine where they stand. Is a pop song ever just a pop song? The Zolas make the statement that just because a tune is radio-friendly, doesn’t take anything away from the message in the music.
The album has a very cohesive sound overall, playing with synths and rhythmic guitar for a fusion of experimental pop that feels like sonic free-fall. One can recognize the hard work that went into crafting such a vibrant record, yet the band feels effortless and comfortable in their newfound pop niche.
Gray collaborated with Carly Rae Jepsen on the track “LA Hallucinations” from Jepsen’s album Emotion and it’s evident the same sound has carried over to the new album. The dreamy pop song mirrors the similar airy beats and the infectious melodies that make up Swooner.
“Why Do I Wait (When I Know You’ve Got a Lover)” is the perfect fade out to the album. It’s a sad song that could have been pulled from The National’s discography, thanks to a spacey, ambient entrance and gloomy vocals. However, there’s beauty to be found in the despondency, especially with its unique groove-propelled ending.
Listen: “Why Do I Wait (When I Know You’ve Got a Lover)” – The Zolas
Overall, Swooner is a shiny technicolour album that doesn’t shy away from everything. It boasts the confidence we always knew the band possessed. There’s a defiant attitude in making a such a record; it easily negotiates a place for itself in a world brimming with top 40 pop bands all fighting to distinguish themselves. It manages to stand out, becoming a statement about the changing world surrounding The Zolas.
It’s the band’s best album yet.