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Zola Jesus Conatus Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A strong third album, but the singer’s promise is perhaps yet to be fully realised.

Jen Long 2011

At just 22, Nika Roza Danilova’s accomplishments make for some intimidating reading. She wrote her debut album, The Spoils, while studying French and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s toyed with side projects in the form of LA Vampires and Former Ghosts, and toured with Fever Ray and The xx. And now comes her third full-length.

Following in the stylistic footsteps of 2010’s Stridulum II collection, Conatus is a dark and brooding set of songs, just resting on the right edge of hopelessness. A little more industrial, a little less fragile, perhaps – but still, this is trademark Zola Jesus, and that’s in no way a bad thing. Her quavering operatic tones are instantly recognisable over a bed of fierce snare fires and evolving synth pads. So, this isn’t an album that has taken any great strides away from the formula that’s served its master so well to date; but as an artist still emerging into the mainstream, it’s wise for Danilova to play to her strengths.

The production has certainly taken a step up, though, with a more polished sheen detectable throughout Conatus, and certain constituents warped into darker sounds that twist and writhe as they scream out of the speakers. Vessel is an easy highlight, its grinding Nine Inch Nails beat the precursor to a soaring chorus; while Ixode is all Cold Cave-style synthetics with a comparable bleakness. Whereas once Danilova’s voice was the main attraction, now ears are dragged far deeper into her music, the beats here more than just an accompaniment to her star turn at the microphone. Adversely however, this makes the lyrical content of Conatus is far less memorable.

With vocals taking something of a back seat, the initial hit of lines like "If it’s in your nature, you’ll never win" (In Your Nature) are lost under a mesmerising backing track. It’s a double-edged sword, but the intimacy of previous Zola Jesus records has faded a little on Conatus. This is a strong record, there’s no doubting that – but it still feels like the best is yet to come from Danilova, which some may consider a disappointment now that she’s three albums to the good.

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