As album releases slow down in late December and early January, I am at the beginning of each year given a bit of an opportunity to go back and make sure I didn’t miss anything worthwhile in the general hubbub of the holiday season.
So here’s one that’s been hanging around a while and finally nudged its way into my heart. More an adventure than a song, “Cultured Man” is melodic and easy to listen to but is at the same time an intriguingly complicated composition. Rather than offering up verses and a chorus, the song presents a complex series of different, seamlessly integrated segments. One section does appear to function, musically, as a chorus (first heard at 0:58, with the lyrics “Just to impress you”), but even that one arrives with different words the next time around. In addition to the melodically distinct segments, the song takes us through changes in tempo and dynamics, as well as three different instrumental breaks. All in just under five minutes.
What holds it all together, for me, is singer/guitarist Zachary Gray’s distinctive baritone. He sounds refreshingly like a grown-up, up front and without pretense, shedding inadvertent light on the muddy or whiny or grandiose voices that slightly overpopulate the 21st-century rock’n’roll scene.
“Cultured Man” first surfaced back in October, as half of a 7-inch split single recorded with the Liptonians. Gray and keyboardist Tom Dobrzanski are the core of the band, although additional players support them on stage. To date the Zolas have released one album—2009’s Tic Toc Tic, on Light Organ Records, which generally employed a more piano-focused sound than you’ll hear here. A new record is being wrapped up this month and could be released by March. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.