While this may be the first album under this name, Zach Gray and Tom Dobrzanski are definitely not new to the Vancouver music scene. They first earned attention and acclaim as half of Lotus Child, but after that band dissolved, they joined forced once again as The Zolas and burst forth with the released of their first album, Tic Toc Tic. Produced by Howard Redekopp (New Pornos, Mother Mother, Said The Whale, 54-40 and many, many more), the album also features a few other Vancouver musicians, like Aidan Knight, Ali Siadat (Mother Mother), Ashleigh Ball (Hey Ocean!) and Shane Nelkin (The Awkward Stage), among others.
The album comes out swinging with "You’re Too Cool", an insanely catchy and somewhat scathing look at hipsters, which even name checks their Vancouver headquarters, the Biltmore Cabaret. The high energy of the opening track not only manages to be kept up, but even surpassed as the album goes on; "The Great Collapse" has a deceptively upbeat sound masking the dark lyrics about the fall of civilization, and "Marlaina Kamikaze" features quick and almost frantic & rambling verses, which fits the theme of post-breakup psychosis. This is countered by the overt sexually frustration in "Body Ash" which is then the released for all the wrong reasons in "Cab Driver", proclaiming "I'm gonna love you to cancel my mistakes" in one of the most straight up rocking tracks, with an insane outro that really highlights the piano in their piano-pop. "Marionettes" brings things down for a moment, showcasing the bands skill as balladeers, but the somewhat dark and eerie "I’ve Got Leeches" cranks it back up, if only for a moment. "These Days" is the slowest song on the album, and while it's by no means a bad song, it's probably the least good... I think it would have worked better coming off of "Marionettes" without Leeches splitting them.
One of my favourites, "You Better Watch Out", is another highly energetic track with cascading piano and a touch of horns, and sees the narrator wresting with his shyness on the bus while "here beside me sits the girl of my prayers" (which is a feeling I relate to far too well). But then that is followed by "No Talking" which comes right out with an anthemic chorus and a carpe diem vibe. The final two songs on the album see the band stretching their stylistic muscles, with "Queen of Relax" overflowing with cynicism and asking, nay, sneering: "Don’t you think it’s time for a car crash?", and "Pyramid Scheme", which is a lot looser that the tight and fiery passion of the rest of the album, and brings the album to a sprawling, shouting end, almost abruptly.
(And a random aside, just a strange personal anecdote: the first time I listened to the album, it was while I was reading the excellent I Kill Giants, and during the climax of the book, the lyrics "Fee-fi-fee-fi-fo-fum / I smell the blood of a Caucasian. / Be we alive or be we dead, / He’ll grind our bones to make his bread." came on. So very fitting, and I love it when things sync up like that)
Tic Toc Tic manages to keep its energy and catchiness throughout, and underneath the flash, it has substance -- something that is sometimes forgotten by bands looking to be more punchy than poignant. It is also yet another good example of how friendly and tight knit a lot of Vancouvers bands have become. It is really nice to see a music community where it isn't just a handful of unrelated bands, but a group of musicians who are friends, help each other out and even tour together. You needn't look farther than their show at the Biltmore earlier this year.
Overall, is a very solid album, an excellent debut, and I can't wait to see where they go from here.
Download The Great Collapse
Download You Better Watch Out