ALBUM REVIEW: Zola Jesus | Conatus

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

LISTEN: To Seekir from the new Zola Jesus album…

Zola Jesus has followed up last year’s Stridulum II pretty quickly with the upcoming Conatus, out October 4th via Sacred Bones. Stridulum II was a dark and lush trip through pop electronica and goth with Nika Roza Danilova’s voice a commanding presence throughout. Conatus sounds like it will continue that vibe but perhaps with a little less bombastic mood more finely tuned song construction. Head over to Sacred Bones to preorder and hear another track Vessel

ds…twenty five – our favourite releases of 2010

That’s it then, 2010 done and dusted and although it wasn’t the best year ever for new music there were some damn fine records released. This year we’re seeing an even more eclectic mix of flavours coming through from witch house, minimal electronica, americana, experimental and the all encompassing indie tag. Have a look at what we loved through the year, click on the covers for linked reviews and please leave comments and let us know your faves…

2010 has also been another stellar year for reissues, remasters and deluxe versions and honourable mentions must go to:

  • David Bowie | Station To Station
  • The Rolling Stones | Exile On Main Street
  • Iggy Pop & James Williamson | KIll City
  • Dexys Midnight Runners | Searching For The Lost Soul Rebels
  • Frankie Goes To Hollywood | Welcome To The Pleasuredome
  • The Cure | Disintegration

25. Spoon | Transference

24. Liars | Sisterworld

23. Wavves | KIng Of The Beach

22. Surf City | Kudos

21. Simon Carter | The Black Book Of The Universe

20. Mount Kimbie | Crooks & Lovers

19. James Blake | Klavierwerke EP

18. Forest Swords | Dagger Paths EP

17. Jeremy Jay | Splash

16. Mark Moldre | The Waiting Room

15. Damien Jurado | Saint Bartlett

14. Deerhunter | Halcyon Digest

13. Gayngs | Relayted

12. Zola Jesus | Stridulum II

11. Wooden Shjips | Vol. 2

10. CocoRosie | Grey Oceans

9. Yeasayer | Odd Blood

8. The Black Keys | Brother

7. Tame Impala | Innerspeaker

6. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti | Before Today

5. Best Coast | Crazy For You

4. Beach House | Teen Dream

3. Die! Die! Die! | Form

2. The Soft Pack | The Soft Pack

1. Arcade Fire | The Suburbs

MP3: Zola Jesus | Sea Talk

Grab a free MP3 of Sea Talk, one of three bonus tracks from the expanded European version of Zola JesusStridulum EP, cleverly titled Stridulum II. It’s out this August via Sacred Bones.

Here is what we said about the EP in our Mid Year Best Of list…

Appearing like a ghostly Siouxsie she has a haunting, gothic voice that conjures up dark romance and nice mix of electronics and guitars. Post goth perhaps? Best EP of the year so far…

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Mid Year Best Of…

Yep, we’re halfway through 2010 already, crazy huh? For the first few months it seemed like there weren’t many big records coming out that were instantly going to make the end of year best of list but all of a sudden our list in progress started filling up. Here then is a list of 13 releases, in no particular order, that have caught our attention and perhaps deserve yours. Over the next few weeks we’ll post some of the best tracks from these albums.

Drop a comment, we’d love to hear what you’ve been slipping back on the turntable or hitting repeat on the ipod…

Beach House | Teen Dream… A record that carries on from the swoon and sway that the band captured on their previous release Devotion. This just unveils itself more and more with each listen, wallowing in its subtlety and dreaminess.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti | Before Today… A killer album that totally lives up to the blogosphere hype. There are lo-fi elements at work that don’t descend into amateur songwriting. The tunes are complex, the melodies catchy as hell and there is enough chaos and eccentricity to make hypnagogic pop sound compelling rather than a novelty genre.

Liars | Sisterworld… The new album sees the band straightening their sound and investing it with the best elements of their songwriting – tribal drumming, chanted vocals, industrial rhythms, hypnotic bass and no wave guitar. Their best album to date… Read full review


Zola Jesus | Stridulum EP… Appearing like a ghostly Siouxsie she has a haunting, gothic voice that conjures up dark romance and  nice mix of electronics and guitars. Post goth perhaps? Best EP of the year so far…

Tame Impala | Innerspeaker… These young gents from West Australia have far exceeded the promise of their early singles and live shows by releasing a fully formed and sonically adventurous psych rock album. It is packed full of hazy vocals, magical guitar playing and real ‘album’ experience. Tame Impala have taken from the past, updated and reinterpreted it for modern ears. Read full review

Yeasayer | Odd Blood… Pop music in 2010 has become bastardised by hip hop artists mutating dance music to its lowest common denominator or youngsters desperately rehashing power ballads or the worst of the 80s. Yeasayer have taken the sound and scope of 80s pop and in a sense paid tribute to it with complete conviction and infectious results. You won’t find anything as catchy as this in 2010.

Jeremy Jay | Splash… A 26 minute album that stole our ears and burrowed into our hearts . Full of forlorn indie pop songs with hook after hook. If he had got it slightly different it would have been laughable but Jay surfs an effortless wave between Television, Interpol, Pavement and Modest Mouse. Detached cool never sounded so good. Read full review

The Soft Pack | self titled… This was one of the earliest releases in ’10 that hooked us. San Diego lads relocate to LA, take the vacant spot left by The Strokes and get back to basics with garage rock strained through The Cure, The Saints and Spoon. It has all been done before but their simplicity and timeless sound is spot on. Read full review Read interview

The Black Keys | Brothers… Prior to hearing this I was never really a particular fan of their bluesy rock n roll. Brothers changes all that with a change in direction that leaves a deep and soulful imprint on the sound and mood of the album. They invest in some heavy groove workouts throughout that suggest a foray into psychedelic rhythm and blues. Read full review

Forest Swords | Dagger Paths… Another entrant in the hauntology/hypnagogic realm and this is one of the best. Englishman Matthew Barnes combines dub, drone, psych and krautrock into one murky mix that taps into your imagination and your feet equally. It is like the heaviest stoned out wander through your brain… in a good way.

Mark Moldre | The Waiting Room… Equal parts, Wilco, Eels, Sparklehorse and the gentler side of Tom Waits – there are sepia-tinged universal themes at work in The Waiting Room that conjure up feelings of nostalgia, loss, love and optimism and Moldre has captured the mood of the human soul with great artistic clarity. Read full review

CocoRosie | Grey Oceans… Impossible to describe these two sisters but they incorporate opera, hip hop, nursery rhyme, minimalism and folk into possibly the most original and hypnotic music you will hear this year. Obtuse yet captivating and accessible.

Deepchord Presents Echospace | Liumin… There has been much electronic music that has excited me this year, much of it on the dubstep and dub techno tip. DPE mixz field recordings with smeared and stretched electronica like some doom dream that you can’t escape. They are working in the same area as Burial yet they still carve out their own dread laden synth niche.