12 Songs, 43 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Los Angeles–based darkwave artist Zola Jesus (the one-woman project of Nika Roza Danilova) creates a beautiful gloom on Conatus, her third full-length. Danilova has an opera background, but don’t expect to hear the timbres or virtuosity associated with that form. Her distinctive singing evokes a more musical Nico or a grimmer version of Cocteau Twins vocalist Elizabeth Fraser. With its agitated synth work, the brief instrumental opener, “Swords,” serves as a good portal into Zola Jesus’ sound world. On “Ixode,” a galloping drum machine accompanies layers of wordless vocals and dramatic strings. Two tracks here, “Seekir” and “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake,” are more clearly contoured than most of the material, which often opts for a more ambient quality. The former features some of the album’s most emotionally charged vocals; the relatively spare latter track could serve as a piano ballad. Nick Johnson’s drumming drives a spooky string arrangement on “In Your Nature,” while the album closes with the beatless “Collapse,” where Danilova intones over a thick bed of droning synth and pump organ.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Los Angeles–based darkwave artist Zola Jesus (the one-woman project of Nika Roza Danilova) creates a beautiful gloom on Conatus, her third full-length. Danilova has an opera background, but don’t expect to hear the timbres or virtuosity associated with that form. Her distinctive singing evokes a more musical Nico or a grimmer version of Cocteau Twins vocalist Elizabeth Fraser. With its agitated synth work, the brief instrumental opener, “Swords,” serves as a good portal into Zola Jesus’ sound world. On “Ixode,” a galloping drum machine accompanies layers of wordless vocals and dramatic strings. Two tracks here, “Seekir” and “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake,” are more clearly contoured than most of the material, which often opts for a more ambient quality. The former features some of the album’s most emotionally charged vocals; the relatively spare latter track could serve as a piano ballad. Nick Johnson’s drumming drives a spooky string arrangement on “In Your Nature,” while the album closes with the beatless “Collapse,” where Danilova intones over a thick bed of droning synth and pump organ.

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3:20
4:42
3:47
4:14
3:44
3:27
4:27
2:54
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About Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus is the project of Nika Roza Danilova, who crafts dark yet uplifting music dominated by her operatic vocals and keyboards. As her work moved from the lo-fi bedroom productions of her early EPs to the more polished territory of albums like Taiga and Okovi, the power of her voice and her blend of electronic, industrial, and classical influences endured.

Born in Phoenix, Arizona and raised in Merrill, Wisconsin, Nika showed an interest in singing early on, buying voice-lesson tapes and opera sheet music at age seven. Soon after, she began working with a vocal coach for the next decade. Anxiety and the competitive nature of opera caused her to stop singing for a couple of years, but missing that form of expression spurred her to begin Zola Jesus. Inspired by high-school favorites like Diamanda Galás, Lydia Lunch, Throbbing Gristle, and Swans, Nika made cathartic home recordings using keyboards, drum machines, and anything else she had on hand. Her first officially released music included a couple of 2008 7"s: the Poor Sons EP on Die Stasi and Soeur Sewer on Sacred Bones.

In 2009, along with her debut album, The Spoils, Zola Jesus released the Tsar Bomba EP on Troubleman, New Amsterdam on Sacred Bones, and an untitled, limited-edition vinyl album and a split release with Burial Hex on Aurora Borealis. Nika also played in the group Former Ghosts, which featured Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart and Freddy Ruppert. She remained just as busy in 2010, releasing the cleaner-sounding Stridulum and Valusia EPs, which were combined as Stridulum II. That year, Nika also collaborated with Pocahaunted's Amanda Brown on LA Vampires Meets Zola Jesus, an experimental lo-fi EP.

Along with working with M83 and Prefuse 73, in 2011 Zola Jesus released her third full-length, Conatus, which found her continuing to move away from her lo-fi roots and toward experimental electronic pop. Toward the end of the Conatus tour, Nika was asked to perform at New York's Guggenheim Museum, an event for which she collaborated with Foetus' J.G. Thirlwell, who provided arrangements for the Mivos Quartet. These string-based renditions were captured in 2013's Versions. For her fourth album, 2014's Taiga, Nika moved to Mute Records. Named after the Russian word for "forest," she wrote and recorded the album on Washington State's verdant Vashon Island and mixed it in Los Angeles with longtime collaborator Dean Hurley.

Three years later, she returned to Sacred Bones for Okovi, an album named after the Slavic word for "shackles." Its meditations on loss and healing featured contributions from Alex DeGroot, WIFE, Pedestrian Deposit's Shannon Kennedy, and percussionist Ted Byrnes. The following year saw the release of Okovi: Additions, an EP of songs recorded during the Okovi sessions as well as remixes of some of the album's tracks by Johnny Jewel, Katie Gately, Joanne Pollock, and Wolves in the Throne Room. ~ Heather Phares

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