Zola Jesus – Conatus

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Zola Jesus
Conatus
(Sacred Bones Records)

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It looks promising on paper.

Nika Roza Danilova is a young gal trained as an opera singer, but has a penchant for bombastic gothic pop songs. She released a string of good EPs and now a full-length album.

But it doesn’t seem to work on record.

For sure Zola Jesus creates a hell of an atmosphere on Conatus with a haunting voice, booming drums, and walls of icy synths, but there’s a curious lack of hooks. Not that it has to be catchy, but each song seems to rely on the same instrumental formula with nothing to distinguish one track from the next. I find it another case of the style-over-substance new wave nostalgia train so many are riding these days.

Not even Danilova’s voice helps break the monotony; while it certainly has bravado, it seems to alternate only between hushed and soaring, time and time again, displaying little dynamic range outside those two points. In fact, she ultimately sounds quite diva-ish; a cross between Siouxsie Sioux and Christina Aguilera.

After a few listens, I can’t quite recall what each song sounds like. But things do start to pick up a little by the end, and the last group of songs leave a mark – “In Your Nature” gets close to transcendence, “Shivers” is great neo-ew wave, “Skin” is an effective low-key ballad, and even “Collapse” is a nice closer. But it’s still a bit too little too late.

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