Home Read Albums Of The Week: Cola | The Gloss

Albums Of The Week: Cola | The Gloss

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “With roots in Montreal, Cola were formed by ex-Ought members Tim Darcy and Ben Stidworthy. Evan Cartwright, an in-demand session musician and collaborator in Toronto’s vibrant jazz/experimental scene with acts such as U.S. Girls and Brodie West, joined after their first practice in 2019. From their inception, they’ve expanded on the DIY ethic of the Dischord and SST eras, creating potent sounds from a minimal palette of drums/bass/guitar and lacing their songs with winsome one-liners and societal commentary. What’s another word for commentary? Gloss, apparently.

There are themes of regaining balance and joy throughout the record, perhaps a linear companion to the relatable ennui and frustration present on the trio’s 2022 debut Deep In View. “Skip the malnutrition / A sign of what you need / Oh, better come back to it / Basking and serene,” sings Darcy on the chiming opener Tracing Hallmarks.

Never basic, the lyrics reward repeated listening for deeper meanings. David Berman’s poetry-via-garage light pennings are an inspiration, as equally so are the lighter side of U.K. first-wave New Wave and the Dunedin sound. The results are in the pudding: At times sparse and poetic, at others a thrilling, hook-laden good time, as with the cheeky romantic sketch of a one-night stand that is so overflowing with innuendo-cum-journalism talk that it almost teeters over into self-parody. But the results are the right combination of lightheartedness and sincerity. Romanticism is never far from laughter, and equally never far from righteous anger in the music of Cola: “Pulling quotes now in the dark / Our outlook is restrained / Your tongue might weaken to be-fit your smile / Til nothing ill remains.” ‘nuff said.

Stage-warm off two months of non stop touring, the band decamped to NDG in the southwest of Montreal to lay down tracks with their frequent collaborator, engineer Valentin Ignat (Helena Deland, Corridor). As with Deep in View, Cola recorded live off the floor with minimal overdubs, showcasing their cohesion as a live band and the amp-hum humanity that is their preferred sonic aura.

Melodically, one of the record’s major departures is that drummer/multi-instrumentalist Cartwright came into the fore as an equal songwriter in the band and his jazz-inflected vernacular runs throughout the album. He also steps away from the drums to play a stunningly delicate guitar lead on Nice Try, the closest thing to a love song the band has made so far. There are elegant touches to be found here as well (whirring organ, conspicuously melodic Mellotron lines) and the short-circuiting rhythms and ringing alternative chord voicings on Bell Wheel are counterpointed by dense waves of swelling Supercollider raw data synths, a programming hobby of Cartwright’s.

One gets the sense that the members of Cola started this project because they enjoy making songs together. Like another beloved rock trio Acetone, the band sounds like three people in a room, seeing what kind of alchemy they can concoct. They are drawn together as much by their love of playing as by their appreciation for literature and films. They are thoughtful and referential guys and so they make thoughtful and referential punk songs.

The album’s title comes from a line in Bitter Melon: “I’m up again / Never was a night owl / Studying, the gloss / It’s written in, to come across.” Gloss can of course refer to sheen and superficiality, but also thoughtful comment or criticism–the writing at the margins. Also, an archaic meaning: “unfavorable comments about something” feels correct for an album with a not insignificant dose of attitude. “Tense room, tuned in satellite / Makeshift town crier evidence of life / There’s something they don’t know / Contact, brings on the show,” Darcy sprechgesangs on Bell Wheel.

The Gloss is almost like a play. Not a rock opera but a performance where the music, lyrics, and changes in light come together to, at the risk of mixing too many metaphors, make some fool’s gold. There’s cranky dissonance for sure to be found in the more volatile chapters like Pallor Tricks and Albatross, with nervous rhythms desperately chasing different shades of distortion in search of equilibrium alongside some of Darcy’s finest lyrics: “I fetishize an ancient mind / To forget my albatross.”

The airy, ringing chords of last year’s standalone single, Keys Down If You Stay, are punctuated with Television levels of precision while Darcy recounts a fable of playing cards and tossing one’s keys in the bowl, all tinged with desperation that suggests a greater theme… safety? Pining for someone lost? The deceptively simple single-note bass push on Pulling Quotes abstracts turn-of-the-century rock catchiness into a song written intentionally to mimic the drones and tones of Uilleann pipes, which bassist Stidworthy has been learning in his spare time. The extended closer Bitter Melon shifts down into a hypnotic gear of repetition and polyrhythmic guitar fingering that evokes the more mystical side of krautrock or kosmische or whatever the hell journos are calling it now. The song dematerializes into a warm bed of feedback and amp hum, building tension until the final page, or the lights go dark, or the music stops… as the joke would go. It’s an album bursting with energy and wit and ideas — filled to the margins.”