Conatus, the third LP from Russian/American singer-songwriter Zola Jesus is an experimental, occasionally moving dive into the dark world of operatic electro post-goth music. Whether you’re new to Nika Roza Danilova’s moody writings or a fan of her previous works The Spoils and Stridulum II, there’s plenty of enjoyable material on Conatus to get excited about. Although fans may complain that the album sticks too much to the formula of her previous LPs and EPs, and new listeners may find her distinctive vocals a little on the wailing side, there’s a fine piece of work underneath initial shortfalls.
When listening to the opener ‘Swords’ for the first time, you may be forgiven for thinking you’re about to listen to 40 minutes of experimental “glitch” music; scratchy electric scrapes whizz by over sporadic synthetic kicks giving support to Nika’s floaty, ethereal vocals for just over a minute. As nice as all this is, I felt it was a little out of place on the rest of the album which, for the most part, it soaked in trancey ambience and so much reverb that everything feels like it was recorded in a tunnel… down a well.
Nika’s style of song writing is quite interesting; it seems she is always aiming for epic crescendos and drops while keeping the simplicity of folk lyrics and melodies as a base structure. In theory, this should prove to be a successful mix, and yet I was always waiting on the edge of my seat for one of these powerful moments to hit during every song, but they never happened. It feels like the energy of this album is at a level where it brings all the necessary ingredients and elements for a big crescendo on every track, but teases you by finishing a tad early. This left me feeling a little alienated and a little disappointed at times.
However the overall mood of this album is enough to save the show. I really got the impression that every track was placed very conscientiously to give an overall narrative of emotional importance for the lucky listener. Most of this is down to Nika’s voice; there’s real pain captured somehow through her singing, it’s delicate and haunting for the majority of Conatus. There are times, however, when it feels a little forced and strained which could take away from the overall impact of the songs. New listeners may equate her to Florence Welch or even a slightly nasal Stevie Nicks, for which you’ll probably be forgiven. But once acclimatised to this hypnotic noise you’ll become accustomed to all the little inflections and punctuations in her voice which makes it so memorable.
So it may not be perfect, but Conatus is a worthwhile listen if you’re interested in a journey into moody synthetic beats, dense dark atmospheres and gently uplifting melodies from an undoubtedly talented up-and-coming singer songwriter. In a recent interview, Nika has been quoted as saying “I usually record in the winter because I am holed up. It’s cold outside but warm inside with the heater and blankets. A lot of the songs are cold but in the coldness you find warmth. Winter has a lot to do with it.” Well then, seeing as it’s getting pretty cold here in Oxford, it seems like the perfect time to indulge in Zola Jesus’ Conatus.
Released on 26th September 2011 by Sacred Bones Records