Release Date: Sep 8, 2017
Record label: Sacred Bones
On the cover of her fifth studio album, Zola Jesus is drenched in a similar viscous substance that obscured her face on the sleeve to her 2010 Stridulum EP. Okovi, named with a word that means “shackles” in most Slavic languages, also marks a return to Sacred Bones, the Brooklyn label that nurtured the singer and producer in her early years and on which she’s released all her albums except for 2014’s Taiga, which came out on Mute. Zola Jesus, also known as Nika Roza Danilova, said three years ago that she hoped Taiga would break through to pop radio, climb the Billboard charts, and unpin Zola Jesus from her goth-pop niche.
The sixth album from Nika Roza Danilova under her Zola Jesus moniker finds her not just perfecting her sound (a sound that to be honest, wasn’t far from perfect anyway), but making a massive step towards understanding this thing that we call life. Having struggled with a depression that made writing virtually impossible, Danilova moved from Seattle and back home to Merrill, Wisconsin where she attempted to rebalance her life. Whilst there, she got herself back on track, but realised that those around her were struggling in their lives too; a close friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer, whilst another attempted suicide twice..
It’s a perfect visual for Okovi, which is concerned with how trauma controls and alters us, how we fight against it, and how we reconcile with ourselves in its aftermath. Okovi – a Slavic word for ‘shackles’ – was recorded in the wake of Danilova enduring “a number of people very close to me trying to die, and others trying desperately not to. ” The resulting album of driving, gothic electronica places her in a trajectory of artists who translate trauma into sound: Her pleas of “take me to the water” on “Soak” are a fitting echo of PJ Harvey’s missives from the depths on 1995’s To Bring You My Love; while the electronics of album highlight “Exhumed” rattle with implanted strings, like the sonic anxiety attacks of Scott Walker’s soundtrack work.
Returning to long-term label Sacred Bones after a sojourn at Mute for 2014’s relatively poppy Taiga, Nika Roza Danilova has perfected her hybrid of industrial electronics and gothic power balladry on her fifth album. Bearing aloft a forensic inquiry into mortality and loss on the wings of her formidable voice, she soars from the shuddering strings and chilly wails of Exhumed to the trip-hop grandeur of Soak and the sweeping romanticism of Witness, via Siphon’s warm assurance of unflinching support to a friend on the edge (“We’d rather clean the blood of a living man”). An album to light the way through the darkest hours..
Life hasn't been so easy for Nika Rosa Danilova lately. Since releasing 2014's ambitious— if flawed— goth-pop statement Taiga, the Zola Jesus vanguard has faced dark times head on, admitting to "fighting a haze so thick I wasn't sure I'd find my way to the other side." But from tragedy can often come triumph, which is exactly what album number six Okovi is. A personal and compelling account of Danilova's world during her blackest hours, it's a record that combines the symphonic, all sweeping chasms of her early output with her more recent balladic pursuits.
Find someone who skates through life with no issues, and chances are the person you’re talking to doesn’t live on Earth. For some, the way to move onwards is by experiencing as much as possible with your head tilted towards the sunlight. For others, simply getting through another day is a feat. When Nika Roza Danilova found herself submerged beneath new layers of depression and darkness, the musician behind Zola Jesus decided to modify her outlook — and while a perspective change can’t fix everything, it was the start of something larger.
By brightening her haunting, operatically trained voice and eschewing her usual ominous electronic effects and string arrangements in favor of warmer and more accessible synth-pop and trap elements, goth-pop singer-songwriter Nika Roza Danilova, a.k.a. Zola Jesus, aimed for pop crossover success with 2014.
Nika Danilova has had a fairly familiar career arc as Zola Jesus. Her early output was dark and rough around the edges with her lo-fi and experimental sides often foregrounded. With some commercial success and the continual honing of her craft, more recent Zola Jesus records have become easier to digest, built with a greater sense of coherence and mainstream appeal.
Death seems almost too natural a subject for Nika Danilova, a.k.a. Zola Jesus, whose pitch black symphonic pop has always courted oppressive anxiety and doubt in an uneasy alliance bent inexorably toward giving an onerous sense of dread a real musical form. Like many other independent artists who dabble in veiled pop modes, Danilova has only gotten more confident and focused over time, enough that her fifth full-length studio album, Okovi, is at once one of her most sonically intense and thematically inspirational releases.
Okovi was recorded after Nika Danilova moved back home to the Wisconsin woods in a time of mourning. Anyone familiar with the output of Danilova.
Winsconsin-born Nika Roza Danilova - aka Zola Jesus - is well-versed in the idea of uncompromising sonics; ever since 2010’s breakthrough LP ‘Stridulum II’, the singer has been weaving dark, gothic spells over the kind of industrial noise more usually found on a Skinny Puppy record than accompanied by a singer of opera-level skill. ‘Okovi’, however, is her densest listen yet. Borne from a period of death and personal disruption for the singer, it’s not the kind of record you go into lightly.
Departing seminal pop group Vampire Weekend may have been Rostam Batmanglij’s boldest and wisest career move. With his breathtaking debut solo album, Half-Light, the producer and singer delves into his new creative freedom to create a record that is at once challenging and familiar. Half-Light hears Batmanglij draw from a number of diverse sources—from traditional Persian sounds to the lush string arrangements characteristic of Vampire Weekend’s baroque pop.
The first note of Zola Jesus' new album 'Okovi' (which translates to 'shackles' in most Slavik languages) is ambiguous. It's filled with a breath of life, and the last breath into death. Indeed, this is the tug that Zola finds herself between, as she's shackled in a purgatory between the pull of life, and the push of death. First track 'Doma' gives minimal indication to the environment that's about to take form.
Retreating from the world in order to mine for inspiration and incentive is not a rare creative stratagem. But for Nika Danilova, aka Zola Jesus, the decision to return to her isolated hometown in Wisconsin to build a house in its woods stemmed directly from a source rooted in the past and aggravated by .
Zola Jesus, the musical moniker of Nika Roza Danilova, once had huge mainstream aspirations for her accessibly gothic art. Her hope for a big hit wasn.