There are two things here we need to get out of the way first. Number one: every artist should have the work ethic and release schedule of Zola Jesus. An album a year since 2009’s debut The Spoils, a number of equally good EPs: she – for Zola Jesus is really Nika Roza Danilova plus an assortment of touring musicians – is almost peerless in getting music out to us. And to someone from the generation who waited five years for a Stone Roses album and were expected to like it, this is gold. Secondly: let’s see if we can get through this and not say goth. Well apart from that bit, but you know what we mean.
So, Zola (or do we call her Jesus, I mean the album really is very good…) has released her third album, ‘Conatus’. There are similarities to her past two records, ‘The Spoils’ and ‘Stridulum II’, but while there’s no Plan B type reinvention, there is development. Zola has explained how having more time, as well as a desire to push forward and create more open songs, led her to add more acoustic and string parts, and the result is an album that is crisper and cleaner.
It’s not like Zola Jesus was a chrysalis which has emerged, but it’s like one butterfly suddenly split open to reveal a grander, more precise and accomplished evolution. The sound is still dark, and if there isn’t a post-modern cult using these thick atmospherics, airy vocals and spooky echoes we’ll have to start one immediately. (Apply if interested.) But Conatus proves beyond doubt that Zola / Nika knows how to create dramatic, involving, and emotionally satisfying music. I say satisfying, because this isn’t some moan along trip into depression: there is survival in this music.
For someone who was bought up to be cautious about band to band comparisons, I’m tempted to described this as a Florence Welch who has recovered from a breakdown, not by using cloying self-help manuals, but by finding a beauty in the pain of the world. If you were worried that the rate of production is weakening the material, you can stop: this is a really good album, and we’re excited for next years. Although she probably does deserve some time off.
Out Now 8 / 10