I first saw the Zolas open for Hey Ocean! back in October. It happened to be 10 days after the release of Ancient Mars, The Zolas’ second album. The band is comprised of Zachary Gray (vocals, guitar) and Tom Dobrzanski (keyboard, vocals), who have known each other and been writing music together since they were teenagers. They were previously part of a Vancouver band called Lotus Child. The writing is done by the duo, but they are joined both on tour and in the studio by a smattering of different musicians. The album Ancient Mars is haunting in the best way possible.
The album opens with “In Heaven.” A simple piano riff carries you through the majority of the song. Following the chorus, “in heaven, you’re always in heaven,” the guitar plays the same riff as the piano plays under the verses. It’s a pretty simple song, but a very effective opening.
The second track is the single from the album “Knot in my Heart,” which seems to describe the feeling of trying to get over someone, and not being able to, finding yourself asking “So why do I need/something more” and noting that “It’s hard and weird not to know how your day begins/though I’m lying next to someone new.” One of my favourite lyrics from the song is probably “These new distractions like growing grasses/hide the path between our homes.”
The title track follows and lyrically describes what seems like the mix between a history lesson and time travel. Ancient Mars, is a fun idea, because obviously all the planets are ancient compared to humanity, but at the same time, we’re only just exploring the planet and so Mars isn’t really ancient to us at all, and perhaps that’s what the song is trying to tell us.
The next song is probably my favourite from the entire album. “Strange Girl.” A relatively simple idea: being attracted/in love with a strange girl. My favourite lyric, possibly from the entire album comes from the last verse, which is great by itself, the lyric is “You may one day be queen/but to me you’ll always be that strange girl.”
Instead of analyzing “Escape Artist” I’ll just post a video below, because the video says everything I could and more.
“Observatory” is an interesting song to figure out. Listening to the lyrics and the words together, it seems like a childish fun. But the words by themselves suggest more serious tones. I just have trouble taking a stick up, seriously with the music playing behind it, it just seems like a bunch of kids messing around. To me, this is a fun song, and I enjoy it, until the last minute or so, when the music changes and the repetition of “Maybe we’re better off” becomes utterly serious, and icy.
The repetition of “Will you remember me” throughout “Local Swan” really gets at me, but not as much as the lyric “I’ve painted you a hundred times and still can’t sign my name” which for some reason eats at me each time I listen to the song, and perhaps that’s partially due to the musical build up, but even just reading the lyric, it cries out to me. I’m no artist, by any means, and yet, I can fully relate to that feeling. The song seems to be about meeting a local girl who becomes famous. Thus “Local Swan,” a swan is a beautiful animal, and therefore makes sense as the title for this song.
“Euphrates and Tigris” is obviously a reference to the rivers in Iraq, but, just as obvious, there’s more to the song than that. Again, to me, this is more on the fun side. But I’ll leave that “mystery [to you, until it]’s gone again”
The album ends with “Cold Moon”, and musically, is a great end to the album. The opening verse talks about the “paint is dry” and the vein is closed. Both images of an ending. The chorus is unbelievably catchy, and leaves you walking away singing it to yourself.
“Maybe I’ll see you on the cold moon
we’ll meet again beneath the cold moon
thin windows fill my room
with silver from the cold cold moon.”
As I write this, I look up at the moon, starry eyed, and hopeful. This week is the North by Northeast Music, Art and Film festival in Toronto. Yes it’s Canada’s answer to South by Southwest. My plan is to post throughout the week about the many different shows I’ll be attending. You can find all the posts related to the festival here. If there’s nothing there yet (which as of right now there isn’t) don’t fret. There will be soon. If there’s a band you think I should be checking out, head over to the Contact page and let me know. In the mean time, I’ll leave you with two videos of songs from the album. The first is Local Swan, from an exclusive Exclaim TV session. The other is a live version of my favourite Zolas song, that you can get as a bonus track from Ancient Mars, and that’s “Cultured Man”