It’s easy to think to think of Cola as a direct continuation of the serially underrated Ought, one of the best art-punk bands to come out of the fertile Montreal scene of the last decade, who disbanded late last year. Two members of Ought – singer/guitarist Tim Darcy and bassist Ben Stidworthy – are joined by drummer Evan Cartwright (who’s played with The Weather Station and U.S. Girls) to make up Cola. Maybe not quite enough to warrant the heavy label of “supergroup”, but there’s certainly pedigree here.
Having the same singer/songwriter is obviously going to draw some comparisons, but Cola have managed to carve out a space on their debut album that sets them stylistically apart, while still maintaining the best of what you’d expect (not unlike another pair of musicians from a big band who’ve also joined with an acclaimed drummer this month…).
Blank Curtain was the first taste of Cola back in November, and it leads off the album with purpose, with a slow build of droning chords and droll, unhurried vocals. But this austere veneer doesn’t last too long as some tasty licks soon form a central melody that creates a fairly standard indie-rock song. The angular nature of Ought is frequently polished down across Deep in View to resemble something more catchy, as in the Cure-ish At Pace or the Kinksian psychedelia of Fulton Park. The wary nonchalance of Mint almost feels like The Strokes if it wasn’t played so sincerely, with a loose drum/feedback break to sever any burgeoning comparisons.
The biggest change, and strength, of this album is the space to breathe. Ought made long, complex songs that were full to the brim of claustrophobic arrangements and enough words to fill an Aaron Sorkin monologue. Here there’s more time for soft guitars (Water Table) or subdued vocals (So Excited) that trade in subtlety over immediacy, though Darcy can’t resist a loquacious finale in the piano-led spoken-word Landers where he waxes pseudo-philosophical about “Cadwaladrish [sic] screaming” and being “air escaping from a cave… next to a dirty highway.” So not everything has changed – the album is named after an Alan Watts book – but this is a cracking debut that shows how a different creative outlet doesn’t have to come with any drop in quality.