Apr 3, 2014

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3 Songs: “The Zolas Are Unreasonably Good at Their Jobs, Part 1” edition:

I feel like I spend a lot of time talking up The Zolas, but I can’t help it; they’re my favourite band. I’ve racked up more listens on Tic Toc Tic than any other album in my extensive iTunes collection, and I keep going back for more. The Vancouver-based duo have crafted some of the finest indie-pop songs imaginable, both well-written and full of energy and emotion. I already spoke at length about their most recent album, Ancient Mars, elsewhere on this site, and way back in 2010 on another blog entirely I called Tic Toc Tic one of the best albums of the year. Choosing just three songs was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do for this project, so I’ve actually split this post so I can choose the best songs from each of their major albums. I’ve got several album-by-album posts planned for other artists down the line; it’s a nice way to circumvent having to pick just three songs out of a big pool of favourites. So here are the three best songs from The Zolas’ debut, Tic Toc Tic:

The Great Collapse
It’s an apocalyptic love song, you guys. A love song about being with your loved one during the apocalypse. A metaphor for breakups using the collapse of the universe. “The Great Collapse” hits so many of my personal sources of joy that it might as well be shorthand for all the stuff that makes me squee like a moron. The piano. The acknowledgment of the futility of nostalgia. The album title drop. The line “Yeah, we were lovers in the great collapse / the seasons came, the seasons passed.” Zachary Gray is a goddamn genius at conveying regret and longing in his vocals, and these qualities will be on display elsewhere in this post and the following.

And you can buy the track, if you like it, from Bandcamp: http://thezolas.bandcamp.com/track/the-great-collapse

Marlaina Kamikaze
I was introduced to The Zolas when they played the Market Square stage during Rifflandia 2010. I spent so much time focusing on their music in part because I realized, with horror, that my ex-boyfriend S was close by in the crowd, and I’d spent most of the past several months avoiding being in the same room as him. Then The Zolas announced this song, which is about seeing your ex everywhere you go. S and I laughed about it many years later, and the song itself remains one of the best from Tic Toc Tic not only because it’s frighteningly true to my own life but also because it’s fucking great on its own. Here I must draw attention to the composition, because “Marlaina Kamikaze” maintains a weird jazzy time signature throughout its verses and then proceeds into a totally fantastic piano-led bridge by Tom Dobrzanski that will knock your socks off. Like I said, the Zolas are one of the most energetic indie bands out there, and this song is a prime example. And as a conclusion to the story, the next guy I dated (and had a breakup with) lived in an entirely different city: Vancouver. So I never had to worry about this happening.

Buy the track here: http://thezolas.bandcamp.com/track/marlaina-kamikaze

Pyramid Scheme
I read an interview once where The Zolas said that this was their favourite song to play live, and it’s easy to see why; it’s a weird, almost prog-like song that includes everything from dreams to vows of jealousy to plays on children’s nursery rhymes. All I can really say is that it contains the lyric “Fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of a Caucasian”. SOLD.

Buy it here: http://thezolas.bandcamp.com/track/pyramid-scheme

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Mar 27, 2014

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3 Songs: “Magnetic Fields Fangirl” Edition

I once tweeted that if I didn’t have CanCon restrictions, my radio shows would likely just be 90 minutes of Magnetic Fields. The Boston synthpop band has been putting out music for as long as I’ve been alive—Jesus—and for every “meh” song there’s at least two absolutely brilliant ones. I love so much of what they do that this should only be considered a “3 songs I love out of several dozen of their best” list, and you probably shouldn’t be surprised if you see an album-by-album breakdown somewhere down the line.

Busby Berkley Dreams

So The Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt set out to write 69 love songs, and that’s exactly what he did. The resulting mega-album wavers across genres, from Johnny Cash-style grumblings to delicate piano ballads, so it’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll hate some of them and fall in love with others. Of my select favourites, Busby is probably the one that’s the most meaningful on a personal level. I love the story it tells—“We still dance on whirling stages / in my Busby Berkley dreams”–and the dissonance between the soft sadness of the song itself and its flashy, upbeat subject matter. When I discovered this song, I was having incredibly vivid dreams about a recent ex-boyfriend—a side effect of new medication—and it was distressing to have my brain conjure him up just as he’d been before our breakup, but also weirdly comforting. It’s that push-pull that happens when a person has hurt you very deeply, but you still miss having them in your life, even though logically you know they’re not good for you. This song captures that.

California Girls

This was the first Magnetic Fields song I ever heard, and it’s still a standout. I love the distorted instruments and the Dandy-Warhol-esque vocals, as well as the messy fuzziness that calls to mind Wave of Mutilation; basically this song is the epitome of delicious noisy neo-psychedelia. The lyrics are hidden beneath the distortion, but once you discern what they are you’ll find yourself giggling at just how vicious they are. Plus, this track can be played after the Katy Perry song of the same name to prove its entire thesis—the shallowness of a certain brand of Los Angeles-based lady—which makes me chuckle.

God Wants Us to Wait

This spot nearly went to “Quick!”, but I’ve already addressed the Magnetic Fields’ talent for aching breakup songs above, so instead I’m choosing to feature another song from the same album—2012’s Love at the Bottom of the Sea—because it’s got extraordinarily clever lyrics and an undeniably sexy tune full of carnivalesque motifs. As the album opener it does a great job of setting the tone for the rest of the songs to follow, as well as introducing the band’s new trajectory following the completion of their “No-Synth” trilogy. Plus, coming from a band that’s written 69+ songs about love and sex, it’s pretty clear that they’re taking the piss out of religious-based abstinence here, and it works so well that I can’t help but hit the repeat button.

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Mar 25, 2014

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3 Songs: “The Standout” Edition

Our relationship with music is really interesting. We respond to individual songs on an almost visceral level, but songs are rarely consumed in a vacuum; they’re grouped together on albums by an artist who’s showing off his or her (or their) specific skills. They have a musical style that you’ll either like or dislike. Normally, when you hear one song you thoroughly enjoy, you’re guaranteed to like at least some of the artist’s other works; after all, there are sure to be elements in common between the song that got your attention and the rest of the catalogue.

But sometimes you only like one song from an artist, and the rest of their work doesn’t appeal to you. You may even wish you liked the artist more than you do, but other than the one stand-out single you’re just not into it. These three songs are all those stand-outs for me; I love them, but am indifferent to the rest of the musician’s works.

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