written by Chris Familton
Zola Jesus is one of a number of female singers with strong rich voices that have emerged in recent years. She shares similar vocal tonalities with the likes of Florence Welch, The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson and Austra’s Katie Stelmanis yet she stands out above those and others as the strongest individual of the bunch. Following on from last year’s Stridulum release, Conatus sees the diminutive Russian American expanding and refining her gothic electronica sound.
It is of course her voice that wins hearts and seduces ears when you listen to Nika Roza Danilova’s music. She possesses a mesmerising mix of drama, romance and atmosphere when she sings that allows the music to feel acres wide. It really matters little what she sings about for the most part as Conatus is all about mood. Hikikomori sways and swells with synths and strings driving along and building a tension that is never released. That ability to maintain a taut ambience is central to the success of Conatus.
Danilova’s earlest releases were concerned with noisier and artfully obscure music so it is a triumph of artistic evolution that she has been able to embrace pop and electronic sounds without sacrificing the exploratory facets of her older material. Seekir could have sat on dark pop albums by Yazoo, Depeche Mode or Soft Cell with its gentle pulse and immediate melody while the extravagantly named Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake isn’t a million miles from the chart ballads of 80s heavyweights like Bonnie Tyler. Skin is Zola Jesus at her most exposed featuring little more than her voice and a piano – proving that she can create music with emotional impact that doesn’t necessarily need musical smoke and mirrors to flesh it out. In terms of successors to trailblazers like Bjork, Zola Jesus is a leading contender.
this review was first published in The Drum Media