There is a haunting thrill to listening to Russian-American singer/songwriter Nika Roza Danilova’s voice backed up by layers of goth-wave-gloom-pop generated by synth, drum and bass. Danilova’s musical project Zola Jesus’ latest album, Conatus, serves as a testament to her musical genius.
Conatus, meaning effort or striving in Latin, starts off by implementing the industrial edge that has contributed to Zola Jesus’ inspirations. There is an impending sensibility produced by a menacing synth, mechanical-sounding samples and a pounding double-bass drum.
However, the tracks soften, both lyrically and audibly as the album progresses. The sound begins to flow a bit more at ease, with touches of cello, piano, violin and viola, allowing the listener in on Danilova’s anxiety and strife through a unique twist of symphonic melodies.
The seasonal appeal of Conatus sets a chilling frost, Danilova’s voice reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux and resolution comparable to Patti Smith. The album itself seems as though the artist were venting in the middle of a tundra horizon, her song oscillating against icebergs.
The cohesive song titles reveal a wintery aesthetic, and the white-schemed album art resonates with the transient-like nature of Zola Jesus. The album cover is suggestive of the album as a whole: Danilova’s face hiding behind sheer fabric, echoing her forlorn state, yet evoking her willingness to share her pain with the world.
“Hikikomori” allows the listener to writhe along with Danilova, as the vocals convey a sort of helplessness. The artist seems to grapple for air and her song struggles to escape from her vocal passage. The term “hikikomori” refers to an individual being withdrawn from society through self-confinement and is reflective of Danilova’s childhood of secluded opera singing.
“Seekir” is one of the more upbeat tracks on Conatus. With a quicker-paced drum beat and synth frequency, a more poppy element is introduced to the album, generating a livelier timbre and higher-pitched vocals. “Collapse” concludes the album, and as the song implies, demonstrates Danilova’s complete vulnerability. It expels any abrasive notions attached to the previous tracks, and wraps up the album in the utter rawness of emotional struggle.
Printed on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 as: Operatic seclusion informs longing songs of Zola Jesus