Say what you will about Nika Roza Danilova, her newest album under the Zola Jesus moniker is far from anything associated with goth. If anything, Conatus is coated in her operatic vocals, touched off by electronic glitches and made beautiful by moving rhythms.
“Swords” begins our foray into the world of Conatus with bleak glitches and Danilova’s haunt drifting far off in the distance. It’s not the most affecting opener, but it sets up the entrance to “Avalanche” perfectly. The electronics are altered from their edgy glitch into moving beats. Nika’s voice takes the forefront here, and it’s exactly as a Zola Jesus record should be, allowing her voice to conquer the hearts and ears of listeners.
“Hikikomori” is the first track on effort where the beats kicks in just a little bit more, and the vocals meet them effectively. This track is the sort that stands out, both for its minimal approach and its beauty. You’ll be hard pressed to find something so moving, yet so simple. It’s similar to its successor, “Ixode.” Rhythmically, the song could easily be placed in some dingy bar off the beaten path, but the vocals do well to make the song a bit more artful, rather than letting it slide into kitsch club music. All this is aided by the backing vocals that echo in the distance, giving a softer edge to the track.
But, there are some tracks that could easily be seen as more club friendly hits, if clubs were willing to spin less generic music. “In Your Nature” utilizes a more emphatic dance groove as the skeleton before Danilova completely lets her vocals take over. Such tracks are meant to be enjoyed while sipping a heady brew, and Conatus, is frankly full of them, demonstrating that Zola Jesus is truly beginning to push the limits set upon Danilova since her first effort.
While the entirety of the album can get a bit thick, making the record difficult to listen to for prolonged periods of time. However, Nika’s voice is so spectacular that she’s allowed a bit of misstep with redundant backing music. For instance, one listen to “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake” and you, too, will be assured of the strength of her vocals. If you’re not convinced, you can also see the ballad, “Skin,” another remarkable performance. With a voice like hers, she can pretty much do anything she wants with the corresponding music, so who knows where she’ll go next.
For now, Zola Jesus continues to grow, slightly altering the sound, crafting music that perfectly fits the vocal genius of Nika Danilova. Conatus might way you down at times, but every track on here is filled with careful touches to emphasize the power of the vocals. You’ll find yourself playing this on cold days, on rainy days and all those days in between; such is the power of the latest effort Zola Jesus.