The Zolas – Ancient Mars (Light Organ)

Canada has been at the forefront of stunning releases in a year saturated with exceptional music. Grimes, Wintersleep and Japandroids have all put out spectacular LPs, helping shape the modern musical identity of America's hat, and giving us a reason to forgot atrocities from the past like Celine Dion and the pint-size punchline, Justin Bieber. Cult favourites across the maple nation, The Zolas are wrapping their second record, Ancient Mars, ready for Christmas.

Released Dec 4th, 2012 via Light Organ / By Larry Day
The Zolas – Ancient Mars (Light Organ) Zach Gray and Tom Dobrzanski comprise the piano-rock duo – the pairing should be familiar to some, as they formed from the ashes of the now-defunct Vancouver act Lotus Child. Their musical bond established, the twosome were free to create their sounds quickly with no need to experiment and weed out their own sonic identities, so within a year of their previous group calling it quits, The Zolas had Tic Toc Tic, their debut. With a bop-along quirkiness and the jovial underdog tales of early 00s teen comedies, the indie-pop curveballs gained a loyal following and critical praise of a 'solid first effort'.

Album number two continues along similar themes, weaving ripping yarns of past lusts and the pitfalls of love, but changing course in regards to the noises with schmaltzy lyrics and hints of geek-rock creeping up. Opening gambit 'In Heaven' throws straight-up piano-rock our way, with foot-stomping kick drums, subtly dark vocals and wild prog guitar licks. It doesn't really colour outside the lines, but it's a formidable start to the record, giving a seductive pump of oomph from the off. 'Observatory' is home to the most earwormy bassline on the record, and with off-kilter falsettos and maudlin keys, the cut is unsurprisingly effective at sticking out of the pack on Ancient Mars. Especially with Gray's strange pronunciation of the word 'observatory'.

Somewhat spacey 'Knot In My Heart' plods along with burbling synths and jangly axes, while titular track 'Ancient Mars' twinkles with muted thumps of bass and almost tropical melodies. Closer 'Cold Moon' is a lethargic odyssey through bluesy six-strings and skeletal, breathy electronica. The amalgam of blippy drum machines, majestic synths and earnest vocals takes the album in a very different direction at it's denouement to the rest of the music they make. It's pretty safe to say that their vaudevillian spangliness of the previous record is all but gone – their music is stripped back, with primitive drums and echoing keys. The focus is on the words and the music, not the glamour.

Ancient Mars takes a different path to that of Tic Toc Tic, opting for more basic melodies and rhythms, declining the extravagance of the latter in favour of poetic lyrics and strong guitar riffs. It's enough of the same to keep their fans very happy, but there's enough extensive detraction to pique the interest of the wider indie-pop world and potentially see them as contenders for bigger things in 2013.