Since her debut LP release in 2009, Zola Jesus has been carving herself a niche in the electro-indie populous. Mixing an often bass-heavy electro-synth beat with soaring operatic vocals, Zola Jesus (aka Nikita Danilova) manages to stun and entrance you with her mesmerising vocal range. Having received opera training from the age of 7, Zola Jesus’ voice soars and can reach levels that teenage X-Factor wannabes can only dream of.
Her latest release, ‘Conatus’, starts from the point we were left stranded last year, waiting for another release. Opening on the Aphex Twin-styled ‘Swords’, you’re taken to a world of clicks and bleeps and deep bass stabs whilst Zola Jesus’ voice echoes majestically in the background. As the album flows into ‘Avalanche’, her ominous voice proves just how powerful it can be with a sound so big it could fill arenas – and yet it comes from such a small person.
‘Ixode’ should be considered for an upcoming single release as it is one of the best tracks on the 40 minute album. It’s infectious and the sound swells and builds into something dream-like and beautiful that is pushed ever onward by the electro-indie melody behind it. Despite it not having a ‘get up and dance’ feel, the atmosphere this song creates is sensational. ‘Seekir’ is in fact the first single from ‘Conatus’ and rightly so as it seems to have been wrenched through a wormhole from the ’80s. With its synth-pop beat and strangely haunting vocals, there’s something entertaining and also intriguing about Zola Jesus’ one notable attempt at a ‘pop’ song.
As the album progresses toward its climax, the emotion and passion with which Zola Jesus sings is astounding. During ‘Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake’, her voice is fantastic without comparison. The range she reaches and the raw power you can feel roaring over the music transforms electronic melodies into something much deeper and impressive. As the song continues it transforms into a mixture of different vocal layers which intertwine into a personal vocal harmony that sucks you into Zola Jesus’ fantasy world.
Unfortunately, ‘Conatus’ isn’t the 11-track odyssey it appears to be, once the end is in sight. ‘Skin’ is a slow emotional piano-led opus that focuses on the sombre and softer side of Zola Jesus’ repertoire, which would be a slightly underwhelming but just closer to the LP. However, the actual final song is a blend of big-sounding ’90s trance synth and heavenly warbling which has an interesting and unique sound but leaves you with a sense of disappointment that the big finish never came. Perhaps that’s the fourth album?
‘Conatus’ is available now from Sacred Bones Records.