Although I’d seen the name Zola Jesus cropping up in different places over the course of the past six months or so, I hadn’t actually listened to her music until about the Stridulum II hit the street nearly two months ago. In that time, it’s certainly become an album that will contend highly in a list of my year-end favorites. As if that weren’t enough, the prolific artist just released the four-song Valusia EP about a week ago, and it’s another great set of songs from a young artist who seems to really be hitting her stride.
A swirling mix of gothic melodies, icy electronics and synths, and some incredibly, almost Siouxsie-style vocals, Zola Jesus probably isn’t too far off from artists like Xx and others mixing emotive vocals with dark electronic pop music. Nika Roza Danilova is the real deal, too, with powerful pipes that take what are sometimes fairly basic synth cuts and push them into nearly otherworldly territory.
With 9 songs running 34 minutes, there really isn’t any filler on Stridulum II, and there are a handful of tracks that are downright stunners. In addition to the aformentioned “Night,” “I Can’t Stand” is a sweeping piece that moves between soaring and haunting, while “Trust Me” hints at her noisier past. “Manifest Destiny” is one track that stands as a culmination of her songwriting power, though, as simple, repetitive synth patterns pulse along quietly before rippling with a hazy sheen of noise as the vocals of Danilova crest.
“Manifest Destiny” – Zola Jesus
While the Valusia EP isn’t a great deal different as a whole in terms of style, it’s the opening track of “Poor Animal” that hints at slightly new directions, with even a bit more polish than previous songs, and a solid and steady beat that pushes it into even more pop territory. That’s certainly not a bad thing, though, and the song is easily one of her most beautiful and potent to date.
“Poor Animal” – Zola Jesus
Needless to say, I’m hooked. Beguiled might be the better word for it, and after a tour opening for Fever Ray and the strength of these two releases in 2010, I really doubt I’m the only one.