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. Conatus, her brand new album, is the outcome of this recent evolution.
Danilova confessed she approached the writing and producing of these new songs with an overall grandiose pop feel in mind, but that "it wasn't in her" after all. This oxymoronic tension is never more apparent than on current single "Seekir," which offers the same kind of witchcraft Stevie Nicks was known for at the peak of her career mixed with an almost Italo bassline, tense synthetic stabs and disturbing vocal loops. "In Your Nature" is moulded on the same kind of archetypal musicianship, albeit with an added tribal vibe. (Serving as the opening band on Fever Ray's tour late last year obviously left its mark on Zola Jesus' psyche.) These are two prime examples of how she has quickly and impressively matured from bedroom industrial experimentalist to perverse yet universal synth-popper.
Luckily, Conatus is filled with many other half-lit dusk-tinged gems. On "Hikikomori," "Shivers" or album closer "Collapse," for instance, drums are tumbling, strings are looming, ghostly background choirs are roaming, but just like the "Night" and "Sea Talk" singles from a while back, they're also commanding melodic artefacts. Danilova also explores new rhythmic territories: "Like the Palm of the Burning Handshake" takes its cue from witch house's turgid tempos, and "Ixode" has a steady 4/4. At the other side of the spectrum, beatless and piano-lead ode "Skin" might be more evocative (at least on first listen) of, let's say, Tori Amos-like balladry, yet the echo chamber-like background effects suggest something far more intimate and sinister.
Conatus is Zola Jesus' most gratifying offering so far, and what's upcoming should be even more interesting. A recent collaboration with M83 and the more alternative R&B she records under the Nika & Rory moniker hint at a wide sonic universe. Her pseudonym might be inspired by France's most stark Naturalist novelist, but Zola Jesus' art is way more nuanced, idealistic, and Baudelairean in essence, making her act all the more captivating.
Buy Zola Jesus - Conatus at
Tracklist: Zola Jesus - Conatus 01. Swords
07. In Your Nature
08. Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake