Zola Jesus aka Nika Danilova recorded her debut album, The Spoils "in the womb of a Wisconsin winter" from 2008-2009, holed up in her apartment. What was produced was a fuzzy and lo-fi yet beautiful puzzle. Trying to work out what she was singing was hard but in songs like "Clay Bodies" one thing was clear, her classically trained voice was a force to be reckoned with. From apartment to studio Zola Jesus’ sound has gradually evolved into powerful, clean, industrial dance music over the course of 3 albums, 3 EPs and a few collaborations.
"Conatus", Zola Jesus’ third album (named after a philosophical concept), is similar to her previous studio efforts. You can expect lots of synth, haunting tones, mournful lyrics about lost lovers and a powerful sound. But that doesn’t mean it’s less breathtaking or spectacular. Album opener "Swords" is just an intro but with its dramatic piano and distant vocals it is pure Zola Jesus. "Vessel", which was free to download in June, will be familiar to fans but it still hits hard with its strong chorus and crunching beats. "Seekir" takes on an almost tribal feel, the chanting and swooping synths make the song stand out from all the others. It breaks up the album and stops it from becoming one long song. "In Your Nature" would sound more at home on the soundtrack of "1984" with its screeching 80s drum machine beats but somehow Nika gets away with it. After an emotionally exhausting nine songs the calm and serene "Skin" really lets Nika really show off her talents as she’s accompanied by a piano and nothing else. The clean, pure sound is worlds apart from the hazy, fuzzy vocals on "The Spoils" and her operatic tones are enough to reduce anyone to tears.
Throughout the album the one thing that really shines through are the vocals. Every song is tinged with sadness as Nika’s voice is even emotive, clearer and more powerful than ever. Conatus will provide a fix for the hardcore fans and hook in ones, making them fall in love with the masterpiece that is Zola Jesus.
By Eden Young