Album Review: Zola Jesus – ‘Conatus’

Album Review: Zola Jesus - 'Conatus'


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

It’s funny in a way that [b]Nika Roza Danilova[/b] 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 ‘[b]Stridulum II[/b]’, 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. ‘[b]Conatus[/b]’ 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 ‘[b]Vessel[/b]’, with a more pronounced, menacing industrial clank to offset Nika’s apocalyptic bellow, and the more upbeat, [a]Cold Cave[/a]-ish synthpop of ‘[b]Seekir[/b]’. ‘[b]In Your Nature[/b]’ reins in the sturm und drang for a warm, vibrant pulse, offering breathing space from the constant high-stakes drama.

Mostly, though, ‘[b]Conatus[/b]’ gives you a more polished version of exactly what you’d want from a [a]Zola Jesus[/a] 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 [a]AC/DC[/a] 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 ‘[a]Conatus[/a]’ remain tantalisingly out of reach, buried beneath full-bore belting. Still, though the likes of the somewhat charmless ‘[b]Lick The Palm Of The Burning Handshake[/b]’ and the over-indulgent piano ballad ‘[b]Skin[/b]’ do make you long for a little more variation, the classically Zola swoop and clank of ‘[b]Avalanche[/b]’ and the fuzzy, electrostatic hymn of ‘[b]Collapse[/b]’ 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


Record label: Souterrain Transmissions
Release date: 26 Sep, 2011