Anyone who caught on to the slow-burn success of 2012’s desolately hook-laden Ancient Mars could sense that something in The Zolas was threatening to bubble over, and after a year of recording, 2016’s Swooner (Light Organ Records) shows an alternative pop collaboration at the top of their creative game. Original members Tom Dobrzanski and Zach Gray have been joined by another longtime duo Cody Hiles and DJ Abell and this is the first album they’ve completely self-produced at Dobrzanski’s Monarch Studios in Vancouver.
Swooner marks a major departure from both the cabaret rock of 2009’s Tic Toc Tic and the atmospheric minimalism of Ancient Mars. This time around the band dove headlong into vibrant, experimental pop, stirring modern production into the influences that surrounded them as kids growing up in the ‘90s.
“This is the most ‘us’ of anything we’ve done,” Zach observes. “It’s fun to be in an era of music where people are ready to appreciate messed-up combinations of influences, and we had a good time pushing that.” Even just in the rhythm section you can hear these mispaired influences crop up in unexpected places. Drums that revolve from Queens of the Stone Age to Dr. Dre, bass textures evoking The Pixies or Kraftwerk. Instrumentally the album features flashes of grungy hard-panned guitars, Prince-like synth flourishes, eurodance vocal samples, watery electric pianos and arpeggiators, all of which feel shockingly comfortable in their new homes.
Swooner moves on from Ancient Mars’ lost love and nostalgia into a cross-section of conversations between a generation of friends about life in 2015; the balancing act we all reckon with between fun and dread. “This album is about how fucked up it feels to step out for a cigarette and a quiet moment at a party, read about disease and climate catastrophe on your phone, finish your cigarette and go back in to dance,” says Zach. “Songs about pre-drinking in your apartment, party drugs in Europe, political arson, jerking off to internet porn, pure love in a group of friends, being single and how great it is, being single and how much it sucks, finally realizing what you want to fight for and then getting distracted. It’s the realest, most fun album we’ve ever made by far.”