Album review: Zola Jesus' 'Conatus'
“Shivers.” “Avalanche.” “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake.” From her severe, zombie-in-Hollywood look to the titles of songs on her second album as Zola Jesus, Nika Roza Danilova appears dedicated to the art of the first impression. The Wisconsin native, now based in L.A., has certainly made one, rocketing from the online electro-goth underground to a forbidding style-mag omnipresence in just two years.
Dig below the bleak, seasick surfaces of “Conatus,” though, and you’ll uncover a deeply romantic streak that complicates the idea of who or what Zola Jesus is. (It’s this disarming sensuality that allowed Danilova to fit in alongside Beck and Mike Patton at a recent Serge Gainsbourg tribute at the Hollywood Bowl.)
Indeed, her hidden message here often amounts to an inversion of Joy Division’s goth-canonical “Love Will Tear Us Apart”: “I’m the only one that sticks around when they call your name out of a crowd,” she moans over crackling machine-gun drums in “Lick the Palm.” Elsewhere, “In Your Nature” is the kind of throbbing dance track that galvanizes a sense of togetherness. Toward the end of this thoroughly bewitching album, Danilova even dispenses with the security-blanket gloom, singing a stark piano ballad not far removed from Adele’s “Someone Like You.” It’s called “Skin,” which seems to be telling us that the first layer isn’t the last.
Three and a half stars (Out of four)
— Mikael Wood