Release Date: Oct 4, 2011
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Experimental Rock
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Nika Roza Danilova (who performs as Zola Jesus) is probably growing weary of the Siouxsie Sioux comparisons. Her third full-length album, Conatus, does nothing to dissuade critics. The music is an explosive blend of goth, electro and industrial influences—but it’s her seductive, banshee-call-of-a-voice that dominates—peaking through the slow-burning static of “Collapse,” soaring above the sparse piano lines of “Skin” and becoming an additional instrument in the ghostly chorus of “Ixode.
ZOLA JESUS plays the Mod Club October 14. See listing. Rating: NNNN On Conatus, Zola Jesus (Nika Danilova) reveals herself as an avant-gardist with pop ambition. The Wisconsin-reared musician's third album is not as bleak - but no less cinematic - than her previous work. This could be the result of ….
It’s not the desolate landscape of sickness, skin shedding, pains ‘n’ stains, and the “land of the worm”. It’s not the night-of-the-living-dread thunderous tremors or the Francesca Woodman-esque death veil artwork either. It’s not even that g-force, brain-spinnin’ voice. No, the scariest thing about Conatus is how bloody beautiful it is.
Over the course of the album, Danilova nods to goth, synth pop, industrial, and abstract electronica without pledging allegiance to any one style; she’s forging her own path, with the help of producer Brian Foote, her touring drummer Nick Johnson, and string players Sean McCann and Ryan York. Despite Conatus' experiments, the vital elements of Zola Jesus' sound -- massive drums and Danilova's throatily majestic voice -- are as unmistakable as ever. Her instrument is undeniably powerful, and more controlled here than it was before, but there’s still a remarkable rawness and vulnerability on songs such as the fatalistic “In Your Nature.
Nika Roza Danilova's music, usually described with words like "dark," "art gothic" or just plain "bleak," clashes with her warmer and more luminous public persona. Or does it after all? Her 2009 The Spoils long player was made of strident, demanding stuff, as if Kate Wax's sonic artistry had met Throbbing Gristle's abrasiveness. But then something changed: Danilova went from dark brunette to blonde and, in 2010, both the Stridulum and Valusia EPs unveiled a newfound sense of immediacy, songcraft and overall awareness of electronic pop tropes.
Nika Roza Danilova began her Zola Jesus project with a formidable arsenal already in place. She had a richly gothic perspective honed by a rural upbringing and studies in philosophy, a background in opera conjoined with a taste for industrial music, and a scarred-yet-commanding voice. The albums and EPs she issued over the last couple of years were startlingly realized for such a young artist, but Conatus, a big record that keeps turning dark and strident, makes them seem like warning shots.
Some singers are blessed with the rare sort of voice that’s unmistakably theirs, and Nika Roza Danilova is one such artist. Under her stage name Zola Jesus, the opera-trained Danilova has paired vocals that are akin to a siren’s call with neo-gothic synths that carry the listener to an often sinister land of mystery. Conatus, the third Zola Jesus album in as many years, offers more of that enigmatically riveting synthpop, complete with shades of Siouxsie Sioux.
Russian-American electro-goth princess Zola Jesus (aka Nika Roza Danilova) has one of the most polarizing voices in all of recorded music. As a kid, she was mesmerized by the sheer power and projection of opera singing, and although her creepy, minimalistic tunes never venture into that arena, she’s a natural, impassioned belter with a flair for the dark and theatrical. There’s no arguing her natural talents—Danilova has an impressive range (or at least she’s unafraid to explore the dusty corners of that range), and her tone is nothing if not unique.
Stridulum II may not have been conceived as a 'proper' album, but that didn't stop it being one of last year's best. And as that breakthrough album was formed from the joining of a couple of pre-existing EPs (as well as taking into account Zola Jesus' relative prolificness) the fact that their next record has followed after just a year isn't surprising. What is a surprise (and a rather pleasant one at that) is that despite Conatus' swift arrival it makes for a more than respectable follow up to Stridulum II.
"Conatus: A force or effort simulating a human effort." While that's just one out of numerous definitions associated with the word 'conatus', it perhaps goes some way to explaining the title of Nika Roza Danilova's (aka Zola Jesus) third long player. Delve further into its origins and you'll find the phrase associated with a number of philosophers, most notably seventeenth century Dutch scientist Baruch Spinoza and his English counterpart Thomas Hobbes. The former's reasoning that 'the force in every animate creature toward the preservation of its existence' still holds true in many psychological mind-over-matter theories today.
Following her powerful 2010, the sharp bet in indie circles was that Zola Jesus, aka Nika Roza Danilova, would be the next unlikely pop breakthrough. How could she not? Danilova’s voice packs a punch that is on the level of Winehouse or Lady Gaga, she’s different enough to appeal to a wide range of fans, and her two 2010 EPs, Valusia and Stridulum, were full of goth torch songs, and New Order-like synths. It seemed like Zola Jesus was one iPod commercial away from being the Next Big Thing.
Slapping a teleology on something is fun, for sure — once you’ve got an endpoint in mind, it’s pretty easy to make everything leading up to it into a nice series of steps in the right direction. In the case of Zola Jesus, it’s almost too inviting to resist. The Stridulum EP enacted the late-aughts buzzband rite-of-passage, abandoning the noise-slathered post-industrial textures and involuted song structures of The Spoils for an unabashed mainlining of hi-fi catharsis, offering critics a convenient critical narrative that framed everything prior to Stridulum as a warm-up for its melodramatic assault.
Operatic wailing and sinister synths: for the love of Siouxsie Sioux, there's a lot of it going around. Zola Jesus's follow-up to 2010's Stridulum II doesn't scrub off the heavy eyeliner – it features a song called Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake – but it does reflect Nika Danilova's newly honed ear for a soaring moment, particularly on Avalanche, which crashes in after a short, misleadingly ambient and experimental opener. Conatus is more fully formed than its predecessor: Shivers, In Your Nature and Vessel emerge as confidently weird, strident goth-pop.
Zola Jesus's last album, Stridulum II, deservedly propelled this one-woman electronic project out of the cosy demi-monde of the blogosphere and on to a wider stage last year. With opera training and a degree in French and philosophy, Jesus makes for an uncommon beat-maker: erudite in her angst. The term "conatus" refers to the momentum to keep evolving.
When pursuing hopes and desires, many dream about being able to accomplish great feats. Somewhere in the world of music rides a special feeling of desire where musicians are able to connect and channel amazing works. For Zola Jesus’ Nika Roza Danilova, music has only just begun and still, her craft appears like something most noticed on a seasoned veteran.
Obsessing over an album's nomenclature is often a fruitless endeavour: these are names, lest we forget, often blindly pulled out of a popstar's arse and shouldn't be scrutinized for clues like ancient runes. Yet one would hope there's something meatier than mere Latin window-dressing behind the title of Zola Jesus's latest full-length. Nika Roza Danilova may have reluctantly made goth trendy once more with Stridilum II, buoyed by her prodigious set of pipes, but all that thunderous balladry became slightly… blustery, once the initial what-the-fuck factor faded away.
Conatus is another example of Nika Roza Danilova aka Zola Jesus doing what she does best. She’s able to weave dark, seemingly tangible labyrinth-like spaces through haunting vocals and eerie atmospheric instrumentals, her voice the sole guiding light in an inky, enveloping world. While she plays to her moody strengths, this album doesn’t stray far from her similarly moody past material, particularly last year’s full-length, Stridulum II.
A strong third album, but the singer’s promise is perhaps yet to be fully realised. Jen Long 2011 At just 22, Nika Roza Danilova’s accomplishments make for some intimidating reading. She wrote her debut album, The Spoils, while studying French and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s toyed with side projects in the form of LA Vampires and Former Ghosts, and toured with Fever Ray and The xx.