Cola Are Working Toward Something New on 'The Gloss'

BY Marko DjurdjićPublished Jun 13, 2024


Formed from the ashes of Ought by ex-members Tim Darcy and Ben Stidworthy, Cola started as a duo in 2019. After just one practice with Darcy and Stidworthy, session musician and seasoned collaborator Evan Cartwright joined the band, and the duo became a hardy trio. The band fizzed their way onto the Canadian indie conscious after a period of focused writing and recording, and in 2022, the released their debut LP, Deep in View on Fire Talk Records. Acclaimed by numerous publications, the record presented Cola's sparse, looping sound through ten solid compositions. The album conjures up memories of bands named after common household objects (Television, Wire, Magazine, Spoon, CAN), yet blends these influences with a decidedly jazzy palette, thanks to Cartwright's complex and poetic rhythmic flourishes.

Now, two years later, the band has returned with their sophomore album, The Gloss, an album that builds on some of its predecessor's strengths yet ultimately eschews that album's tension and directness in favour of more expansive and grandiose compositional approaches.

While still rooted in the trio's minimalist guitar/bass/drums setup, the recording itself feels full and bouncy, accentuating the interplay between Darcy's sharp, slightly overdriven riffs and Stidworthy's meaty, direct basslines. Album opener "Tracing Hallmarks" is replete with melodic turns, splashing cymbals and a driving bass. None of the instruments overstay their welcome or overpower their neighbours, living in jittery harmony, even if some of the overt jazziness of Deep in View has subsided in favour of even more simplistic, Motorik-by-way-of-Manhattan rhythms.

Throughout the record, Darcy's voice — a melancholy, expressive yet always direct instrument — relishes its place in the pantheon of great sprechgesang vocalists. This approach, which rejects conventional, note-based vocal expressions in favour of sing-talkin, has become popular within various genres of 2020s music, favoured by everyone from Squid and Wet Leg to Yard Act, Cheekface, Fontaines D.C. and even pop artists like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo. What is unique about Darcy's approach — in Cola, Ought and his solo work — is his ability to conjure the expressive intonations and tones of Jonathan Richman, Roy Orbison and Car Seat Headrest's Will Toledo, rather than the detached drawl of Lou Reed.

Songs like "Pallor Tricks" and "Albatross" are complex, winding compositions, at once both melodic and dissonant. "Pallor Tricks" in particular relies on clanging transitions, (practically) sunny choruses and Randy Newman-esque vocals, peppered with spittle and delivered by an oversized tongue. "Albatross" is as imposing and direct as its titular bird; it is robust and uncomfortable, reflecting with a surreal eye on the minutiae — and ennui — of 21st century life ("If you break glass / Brush it off of the table"; "I'm a lame horse / With an optimistic mind / And there it is").

Unfortunately, the immediacy of Deep in View is somewhat missing from the predominantly mid-tempo The Gloss. Although the minimalist "Nice Try" is punctuated by a lovely, chiming guitar solo, it is still plodding and linear, a trend seen throughout the album's second half. Many of the songs lack the necessary dynamics needed to sustain their repetitive structures, particularly "Keys Down If You Stay" and "Reprise," the album waning in energy by the time you reach closer "Bitter Melon."

Although the band clearly wears its assorted influences proudly on their collective sleeve, this diverse approach can sometimes hinder progress, resulting in some songs that are vibrant, complex and uniquely Cola, while relegating others to the derivative badlands. Fortunately, such glaring contradictions may actually work in Cola's favour, with The Gloss feeling like the inevitable stepping-stone to a more cohesive, and hopefully lively, third record.

(Next Door Records)

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