Album Review: Zola Jesus - 'Conatus'

Nika doesn't re-invent her wheel, but nor would we

  • Release Date 26 Sep, 2011
  • Record Label Souterrain Transmissions
  • Fact She started performing opera when she was 10 years old
7 / 10
It’s funny in a way that Nika Roza Danilova has chosen to name her third album after a philosophical idea that describes the innate drive of living beings to develop themselves. If there’s one thing we thought about the glorious, gloomy wallowing of 2010’s ‘Stridulum II’, it was that, sexy as it was, it didn’t leave much room for development. That instantly recognisable pain-storm of a voice, the chilly spaces, the massive power-ballad chest-clutching choruses were so stylised and perfect, you had to wonder where she’d go from there.

And it’s with only the tiniest disappointment that we can report: pretty much right back there again. ‘Conatus’ represents a subtle growing into what is very much a trademark sound, with only the tiniest of mutations, polishes and tweaks. Most innovative are lead track ‘Vessel’, with a more pronounced, menacing industrial clank to offset Nika’s apocalyptic bellow, and the more upbeat, Cold Cave-ish synthpop of ‘Seekir’. ‘In Your Nature’ reins in the sturm und drang for a warm, vibrant pulse, offering breathing space from the constant high-stakes drama.

Mostly, though, ‘Conatus’ gives you a more polished version of exactly what you’d want from a Zola Jesus album. Whether the fact that it’s a teeny bit shticky is a problem is a matter of opinion; you seldom hear fervent Stereolab or AC/DC fans bemoaning the fact that it all sounds a bit… the same. Perhaps it would help to foreground the ideas a bit more; she’s clearly a smart cookie (secondary education and uni completed in three years each, ta very much) but the thematic patterns of ‘Conatus’ remain tantalisingly out of reach, buried beneath full-bore belting. Still, though the likes of the somewhat charmless ‘Lick The Palm Of The Burning Handshake’ and the over-indulgent piano ballad ‘Skin’ do make you long for a little more variation, the classically Zola swoop and clank of ‘Avalanche’ and the fuzzy, electrostatic hymn of ‘Collapse’ are so blackly, bleakly beautiful, you feel churlish for quibbling. Ah, who needs evolution anyway? You say ‘iPad’, I say ‘sabre-tooth tiger’.

Emily Mackay

Zola Jesus On Her New Album - 'It Felt Like A Deep Cut'
Video: Zola Jesus On Her New Album - 'It Felt Like A Deep Cut'

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