Release: October 7, 2014 via Mute Records
Rating: 5/7 stars
Nika Roza Danilova, moniker Zola Jesus, isn’t quite a pop star, but she certainly knows how to curve her experimental tones into sinuous and vital pop music. Her genius is embodied in her seemingly-uncomfortable wardrobe. Somehow, she slips into rings of wood and nets of light and performs, owning and transfiguring any discomfort into the pride of art. In analogy she coaxes raw, breathing sound from her own being into a proven structure. Her new record, Taiga, awaiting an October 7 release through Mute Records, conceptually exemplifies accord through mastery, analyzing the human relationship with nature as one of adjustment. Egotism places the angsty human voice at the fore, dominating the sometimes chaotic and consistently cold-while-pretty instrumentals representative of the landscape.
Aesthetically, the record may be off to a poor start for former fans of Zola Jesus, especially of Conatus (2011). That is to say, the album art and track listing on this attempt are so very pop, with no presence of exquisite song titles like “Lick the Palm of the Burning Hand.” Sonically, the artist has, however, not strayed far. Indeed, in writing electronic pop music in the seclusion of Washington’s nature, she has only sharpened and refined her output into something magnetic, more mature than anything in her past.
The radio-intent of singles “Dangerous Days” and “Go (Blank Sea)” is obvious enough, with the former woefully reminiscent of P!nk on the first listen.* “Hunger” and “Long Way Down” could also easily float on the mainstream for a few weeks or so, in which case Danilova’s artistic integrity would be on par with Gotye’s in that both are incredibly talented writers and musicians with an extensive and wonderful catalog besides just song x. That said, the remaining songs on the album stand on their own as independent feats of ability or creativity, tracks “Nail” and “Taiga” managing to stand out for their fine experimental quality despite a hugely dynamic soundscape.
High culture sangfroid and gorgeousness have always been the fixed point for the music of Zola Jesus; this remains the case. Not too much has changed, and every change is palatable, if one can swallow, even enjoy, the ambitious pop bangers. Danilova throws forth her sublime logic in still-marvelous, polyhedral form with Taiga, staying cool and sticking to a minimal selection of synths, brass, bare percussion and the absolute pearl of her voice.
* For me, P!nk is the sound and essence of rancid sweat streaking a spray-on tan. Not good.