Zola Jesus - Conatus

It’s hard to believe Zola Jesus is only two proper albums deep into her career; she’s already been through a world of aesthetic evolution. Nika Roza Danilova’s first album was 2009′s scraping, feral noise-beast The Spoils, an album I could admire but never properly enjoy. So when she followed it up with her Stridulum EP last year, it was a legit shock. Stridulum and its follow-up EP Valusia were as dark and mysterious as The Spoils, but they were also grandly theatrical and melodically warm enough that they worked as something resembling pop music, not an epithet I would’ve ever attached to Danilova’s music before. The music on those two EPs was ballsy and fierce and take-no-prisoners, with Danilova never singing in anything less than a titanic opera-bellow, but it was also tender and personal and comforting. Danilova was making love songs, with a new reserve of sentiment and a serious command of atmosphere. Last year, a playlist of the Stridulum and Valusia EPs became my favorite thing to play when I was putting my toddler daughter to bed every night. And now she’s followed those excellent EPs up with Conatus, the album that delivers on their promise.

Like Stridulum and Valusia, Conatus is a confident, fearsome work of dark, guttural, majestic synthpop. Danilova doesn’t especially like it when people pigeonhole her as a goth, but for many of us, no other term will do. Danilova’s music has the same balance of monolithic weight and vulnerable romanticism as something like the Cure’s Disintegration or Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have,” bleakly hopeful opuses that helped a few of us make sense of the world when we were teenagers. And though Danilova is making assured, grown-ass music, there’s something about it that evokes teenage powerlessness, just as there was with those records. When she tells us over and over on “Shivers” that she won’t be there, it’s a sort of cold dose of reality. When she roars, “I don’t want you to go” on “Lick The Palm Of The Burning Handshake,” it’s doesn’t get a whole lot realer. Even the tough-to-decipher whoops and moans of “Hikikomori” feel more emotionally direct than most other artists at their most plainspoken.

“Seekir”:

Conatus ends with “Collapse,” its single strongest song. On an album full of cresting synth drones, “Collapse” is the most dramatic, and it gives Danilova a chance to wail across canyons in a way that could absolutely work as the soundtrack to a heartsick prom montage in a teenage-romance movie. And that’s the magic of Conatus: Concrete raw-nerve emotions rendered without compromise, but done in a way that makes perfect pop sense.

Conatus is out now on Sacred Bones. Stream the album at The Guardian, and check out our Progress Report interview with Danilova.

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Comments (13)
  1. It’s not a huge departure from Valusia or Stridulum, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I definitely admire that she doesn’t overdo her vocals this time around, either, since her biggest release to date might have ended up with her wailing all over the place. It’s simply romantic, dark and elegant — All the reasons Nika caught my attention in the first place.

    Also, the best part about this post was reading that Tom has a toddler daughter (who knew he was old enough to?!) and that he puts her to sleep by playing Zola Jesus (and now she’s going to grow up goth.)

    • I’m 32, my dude! I’m old as fuck.

      • No way man, 30 is just as good as being 20 these days, especially when it comes to people who have a good ear for music. If you told me you were 32 with child and “don’t know anything about new music” because “you don’t have the time,” I might have had a sad face, though. Age = attitude.

      • Christ, now I feel old. =)

        BTW totally agree with you on “Collapse”.

  2. Thumbs up for drawing the comparison to NIN. Something tells me Trent would be / already is a fan.

    A Trent Reznor / Zola Jesus collaboration would be a match made in heaven (or hell).

    In other news: Conatus continues to be dope-as-fuck.

  3. Fantastic album. Definitely in my own personal end of year list.

  4. Outstanding stuff, really loving it. I especially like that she didn’t go for 12 swelling belters, she is so much more than just a voice. ‘Ixode’ is my current favourite, if you need me I’ll be over here dancing by myself for a while.

  5. Solid album…I cant stop streaming it! Love “In Your Nature” & “Ixode” at the time…but, it’s just brilliant, throughout!

  6. What? Nobody like the review haha.

  7. Conatus is my first proper introduction to Zola Jesus, im liking it so far! I really dont mind the theatrics in her vocals, suits her style of music very well.

    Signed

    *not jaded 36 yr old Dad*

  8. This 46-year-old loves Conatus.

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