Review: Conatus by Zola Jesus

By Danielle Farthing

The first time I heard Zola Jesus’s ‘Night’ shortly after its release in 2010 I was lost: “Florence Welch has gone a bit dark hasn’t she?” I thought to myself. However, if you are a first time listener to her, then new album Conatus does little to shake this similarity: especially if ‘Avalanche’ was the first track you happened to hear.

Zola Jesus

Photo used under Creative Commons from Man Alive!

Nika Roza Danilova’s is Zola Jesus. Her and her music are most commonly described as ‘gothic’ with references to Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sioux popping up in almost every article or review you find after a quick web search. With comparisons like these it is not surprising to hear that Danilova told the press that she felt more pressure while writing this album. With three albums in as many years, when did she even have the time to think about it?

I still find it astonishing this woman is only 22. Especially considering how this album has progressed musically from her second album Stridulum II. However, maybe this was only a natural progression. I’m sure there is only a certain amount of times you can record albums in your bedroom till they all begin to sound the same.

Conatus has fallen heavier on the production side. Rather then carry on using the old tried and tested method of playing a few select eerie notes and an echoed drumbeat in the background, the songs feel fleshier and are easier to listen to, ‘Vessel’ being an example of this. In ‘Seekir’ you can even distinctly hear some notes that are (dare I say it) quite chirpy.

Stridulum II had points where Danilova’s lyrics and voice were the only thing that kept the tracks moving along, but in a strange way this worked and was all part of the genre and sound she created for herself. On Conatus heavier backing tracks drown out her voice and lyrics, the original reason you were likely to be drawn to this artist in the first place. If she achieved a balance for the two to be equally mesmerizing at the same time then she would have nailed it.

‘Ixode’ is the track on the album that I can envisage live will have a chance of getting her fans to move around a bit rather then standing there trying to work out where the last song ended and the next one started. The added vocals on the chorus sets it slightly apart from the others, while what she is saying is still a mystery, as a sound similar to Buddhist monks blares from the speakers.

It feels as if Danilova has tried to create a sound that will fit her into a category slightly more towards a more mainstream direction, yet her voice is still very caught up in the ‘goth’ stereotype from her last album.

She is an artist that still has a lot more to give but very caught up in a genre. Nothing is really groundbreaking in this album.

Tracks to listen out for are ‘Hikikomori’ and ‘Lick The Palm Of The Burning Handshake’ (even if it is a bit pompously titled).


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