[sic] Magazine

Zola Jesus – Conatus

Mainly thanks to the hugely well-received Stridulum EP (as well as its expanded re-release: Stridulum II ) the diminutive Nika Roza Danilova is hot property. Instead, however, of going for broke with Conatus , Danilova puts forth a more subtle collection than perhaps could have been expected.

Her industrial notes are still present, raising their head via foreboding synth scales on “Avalanche”. So, too, are her impressive, operatically-trained pipes, but they now often plump for deeper sequences, rather than squarely aiming to bring down the house. Generally though, Conatus is treated to a softer electronic palette than its predecessors – one, perhaps, indicative of a greater recording budget.

Nevertheless, in holding back, the album feels airy. Danilova, like careful Canadian pop producers New Look and like The xx before them, isn’t afraid of space. Her arrangements aren’t crowded as a result, yet they seem set at a distance from the hushed atmospherics of earlier material all the same – and further still from the more linear lo-fi clatter of forgotten debut The Spoils .

With that in mind, the delayed vocal loops that herald “Vessel“ allow the track to echo around its dramatic setting, before it all inevitably rounds out to a bleak chorus of sorts. For there is pop in Conatus ‘s heart, but occasionally it takes some finding. Stepping out of the shadows, “Seekir” is at the more obvious end of this scale, bringing to mind a shyer, albeit more vocally interesting, new wave cut from Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘ silky It’s Blitz in the process.

Conatus builds throughout, but climax never truly comes. There may be no breath-taking standout to rival the shimmer of “Night” or the raw power of “Run Me Out”, but the suspenseful “Hikikomori”, which is warmed by strings throughout, threatens similar territory while still showing Florence the exit in terms of emotive balladeering. The curiously named “Lick The Palm Of The Burning Handshake” could equally have really gone for it, exploding with stygian crescendo on top of immaculate operatic high notes, but it’s restraint is probably also its power.

Still capable of surprising, Danilova’s best played ace however comes in terms of comparison. The driving “Ixode” suggests it, and the distant vocal backing on “Skin” evocatively confirms it, as, through fairly heavy use of vocal looping and delay, an affinity with 2011 naturalistic newcomer Julianna Barwick is more than hinted at. Both manage to evoke an ethereal chatter ideal to sound-tracking fast-forwarded, helicopter-mounted camera work on geographic documentaries – something the organic existentialism of the album title Conatus may doubly confirm.

Insulation is required in order to stay hot, and Danilova’s Conatus is duly swaddled in effective, frosty gauze. Inside, she’s quietly thriving, burning brightly.

Advised downloads: “Vessel” and “Hikikomori”.

~Conatus is out now on Sacred Bones , with Souterrain Transmissions doing the distribution in some regions.~

[sic] review: Stridulum EP

Zola Jesus @ myspace