Zola Jesus - Conatus
Last year’s Stridulum II saw Zola Jesus moving from the noise-based, electronic experimentation of previous album The Spoils, to a more industrialised and gothic pop sound that saw critics getting a little bit excited about Nika Rosa Danilova and her band. Conatus explores the same icy, seductive atmospherics, but wraps them around far better songs; an improvement no doubt brought on by her extensive touring schedule.
With the sweeping string sounds that begin first song proper ‘Avalanche’, it’s clear that this is business as usual sonically. Nika’s forceful and affecting vocals swim in distant harmonies and skipping beats before they all drift out to leave her solitary voice to fade out. The mechanical electronics that crunch their way through the start of ‘Vessel’ are vaguely reminiscent of early Nine Inch Nails, a similar robotic darkness covering ‘Shivers’ with deadly glitches and thumping metallic percussion.
The presence of touring drummer Nick Johnson adds a little more humanity to tracks like ‘Hikikomori’, where he is flanked by striking violins and a melodic throb. There’s plenty of beautiful piano work on Conatus too, particularly towards the end of the album; ‘Lick The Palm Of The Burning Handshake’ is perhaps one of the band's best demonstrations of this, and probably one of the band's finest tracks yet with its swirling, spectre-like ambience and stuttering synthesizers. Cello warms up the cold and desolate piano-led ‘Skin’, replete with a bewitchingly bare-bones vocal from Danilova.
Conatus is an impressive and captivating balance between shadowy pop melody and whimsical experimentation which deserves to be as big as it sounds.