Posted on December 29th, 2011 (3:29 pm) by Mark Schiffer

Goth pop/rock once was a bastion of hope for the former new wavers and art punks as the 1970s turned into the '80s. From the ethereal sounds of This Mortal Coil and The Cocteau Twins, to the pounding drums and cathartic shouts of Swans, the genre provided an intelligent alternative to the more staid and mundane popular music of the day. Like all genres, unfortunately, it has faced its share of distillation and bastardization over the past couple of decades. Fortunately, former Former Ghosts member Zola Jesus continues this tradition with her latest work, Conatus.

This album simultaneously throws back to the both melancholy and joyful sounds of Lisa Gerrard and Liz Fraser while still managing to further and develop the genre with an entirely personal voice. The '80s influences are clear, but at no moment do they even begin to make the album seem derivative. The spark of individuality Zola Jesus brings to her music invigorates these seemingly retro sounds with energy and vitality.

Zola Jesus (born Nika Rosa Danilova) has previously toured with such performers as Fever Ray and The xx. These pairings were logical, due to the chilly electronic nature of all three artists. However, on Conatus--and, for that matter, her previous Stridulum and Valusia EPs--Jesus exhibited a noted human, organic quality lacking in the bands she has supported. Unlike Fever Ray's Karin Andersson, Zola Jesus holds no pretensions of being a robot. She acknowledges her emotions to be both real and expressible, and her music overflows with feeling.

This element can also be seen in her earlier collaboration with supergroup Former Ghosts, where she belts out cathartic lyrics of unrequited love and despair on New Love highlight “Chin Up.” Conatus continues this trend with icy yet organic production that emphasizes both mid-'90s Bjorkesque orchestration and Jesus's very connectable and human lyrics. Late-album highlight “In Your Nature” sees her soaring above and beyond the level of quality most of the pop mainstream, but at no moment does her work prove elusive or opaque. The exact meaning of “a shark coming down through the sky” may prove a bit cryptic to most listeners, but the innate effect of Jesus's soaring vocals is undeniable.

Conatus also represents a step for Zola Jesus, intrumentally. The orchestrations and pounding pianos act as a sharp contrast to much of her previous solo work. That isn't to say that she has abandoned her drum machines and pulsating synths. Rather, she has integrated them into a much fuller, rounded sound. “Ixode” seamlessly weaves together both the inorganic tools of the goth and electronica worlds with the soaring orchestrations of an expert popsmith.

Zola Jesus's melodies are memorable and moving, allowing for her to both maintain her integrity as an artist while still managing to potentially generate crossover potential. With Zola Jesus and the artists she has come to associate herself with, fans of goth rock have indeed found a cause for celebration. Conatus will resonate both with today's melancholy youth and those who came of age to 4AD's classic albums.

Track List:
1.  Swords
2.  Avalanche
3.  Vessel
4.  Hikikomori
5.  Ixode
6.  Seekir
7.  In Your Nature
8.  Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake
9.  Shivers
10. Skin
11. Collapse

Zola Jesus Conatus
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

86 / 100
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