Zola Jesus - Conatus

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After the gloomy darkness of her previous releases, the all white cover of Conatus would suggest Zola Jesus was coming in from the cold shadowy spaces she usually occupies. Whilst there has been a shift into more clarity in her vocals, and some lush vocal layering on tracks such as ‘Ixode’, her sound is still as unsettling and otherworldly as ever.

Much has been written on the title, the word for the endeavour of something to continue to improve and survive, and it does shine through in the work, even if on first listen it vdoes sound very much like her last album. She has stripped some of the claustrophobic atmosphere seen on ‘Night’ and ‘Manifest Destiny’, replacing it with a colder, sparser sound which causes her voice to shine through as a flicker of warmth. There is much more of an emotional connection because of this, tracks such as the fantastic ‘Skin’ and yearning ‘Hikikomori’ expressing a vulnerability that was hard to see in all the distortion before.

Tracks like ‘Seekir’ and ‘Ixode’ are practically pop, the former featuring a disco pop stomp backed by a pretty creepy vocal drone , whilst ‘In Your Nature’ sounds a lot like a lost Patrick Wolf track (now that would be a interesting duet!). Of course a more pop-oriented album means a ballad is mandatory, which ‘Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake’ dutifully provides. Thankfully it’s one of the strongest tracks on the whole album, simple piano and propulsive drumming leading to a soaring chorus with her crying “again and again it takes you over”.

The standout track here however has to be ‘Vessel’. Building up layers of dark muffled drums and mechanical glitches, this is Zola Jesus at her most dramatic. Then, just as it appears to end, it drops into an ending so brutal and energising it really does “surround everything”. On Conatus she’s showcased her ability to come out from under washes of distortion and evolve into a fledging dark pop star.

 - Richard Fitzpatrick

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