Zola Jesus Zola JesusConatus
Between “The Spoils” (2009) and “Stridulum” (2010) (or “Stridulum II”, the corrected and augmented European version of that transitional EP from darkness to shallow light), there was a change in Nika Roza Danilova which was considered crucial at the time - and which is reaffirmed on “Conatus”. It was her voice: from the cavewoman's grunts on that first album, Zola Jesus started to polish the sharp edges of her pharynx and a low but epic voice appeared, expressive and capable of sending chills down your spine, filling the room with all its naked emotion. Zola Jesus' voice - which is like Bruce Springsteen if he were a 5 foot, 7 stone woman - is a thunder that has taken her to that place between underground and overground, between the indies remembering Siouxsie and the masses who take out their mobile phones (formerly called “lighters”) during the moments of transcendence and deep emotion at concerts. Prepare yourself: if she continues this way, Zola Jesus will end up reaching as many people as Coldplay.
Now, is there any such significant change between “Stridulum II” and “Conatus”? The answer is no, and if there is, it's in the instrumentation, somewhat more synthetic in its texture on these eleven songs. Aside from “Swords” - a one-minute instrumental intro - the voice is the star; dominant, roaring on the epic moments and solemn during the dramatic piano part and background whispers of “Skin”. The variation on “Conatus” is that: Zola Jesus definitive confirmation as a lighthouse of intensity and a gothic icon for this decade, but also as a torrential singer who can take the baton from Kate Bush with some or other incursion in a sound that is complicated and, at times, blown out of proportion ( “Lick The Palm Of The Burning Handshake” is an exaggerated exercise of false passion, not credible). But, save a few exceptions, “Conatus” perfectly responds to the expectations and most of all wishes for this album: it's an extension of the most electric moments of “Stridulum II”, like “Night”, and of the songs on “Valusia EP”, particularly “Lightstick” for its nakedness and “Tower” for its anxiety.
Nika said in her “Conatus” track by track in The Guardian that somewhere along the way, she thought of keeping the album strictly instrumental. Which is odd: to do so would be to reject the person she's becoming. Yet on “Conatus” there's no sign of self-hate - just the usual anxiety and shyness of the Zola Jesus persona that extends the interior life of a particularly sensitive person (Nika Danilova), who's uneasy with this world of poverty and treason, who in this tragic, pitch-dark pop finds an escape to a very private room, a cave, or, like she says, “my cage”. From that cage, or ivory tower (the title “Hikikomori” says it all), Zola Jesus has written her own “Black Celebration”, if we draw a parallel to Depeche Mode: an album of reaffirmation in the message with a tendency to transition in the package. The synths sound chilly and exact, the strings have the right amount of drama, never sounding exaggeratedly symphonic; the piano is as solemn and mournful as her voice needs it to be and never takes the complicated paths of, for example, Fever Rey, another inhabitant of those thick woods full of mystery and danger.