If you're thinking that 'Russian-American Quirky Pop Sensation' sounds suspiciously like Regina Spektor... or that 'Powerful Yet Macabre Female Vocalist' is too much like Florence + The Machine for you to handle... well, get over it. Zola Jesus is both of these things without being derivative in the slightest. She's spunky, she's fresh, she's dark and creepifying and slinky and soaring all at once. And she brings her unique vision to 'Contatus', a collection of eerie, echo-laden pop tunes.
At the risk of going too cerebral, 'Conatus' is the Herman Hesse novel of fempop. (I know... books? What are those, right?) These songs swell with the creative vision of solitude, and the crushing weight of an immutable and broken world -- a lone voice in the wilderness trying to piece something together from it all. Zola Jesus' background (as a loner child studying opera in the backwoods of Wisconsin,) seems to define the core of her sound: a dark, forceful voice calling in the night. At the same time, the swirling chaos of her electronic instrumentals speak to the unique loneliness of our modern, urban existence... flashing, transient bits connecting isolation to isolation.
Okay, well, maybe that sounds like a bullshit thesis to an English dissertation. But the fact of the matter is that Zola Jesus has a unique, searching vocal style that evokes these emotions without getting angsty or played-out. When her vocals are first revealed on 'Avalanche', the album's second track, they hover plaintively in a Stevie Nicksian echo chamber.
'And in the end, I saw you. Visions of something I wasn't used to.'
The first words of the album, already looking to the end. It builds from there, to the almost industrial-sounding 'Vessel'. 'Ixode' invokes a chanting, tribal feel -- while the album highlight 'Seekir' is poignant-yet-danceable.
If I have a criticism of the record, it's this: while it takes us to a unique, vivid place in its hollow, rushing soundscapes... it seems content to stay there. The album has a very one-dimensional sound. While the songs differ in terms of composition, the overall mood is pretty static. As a result, it can be kind of heavy after prolonged exposure. At least for someone as naive and impressionable as myself. Not gonna lie, after I got through it I felt compelled to call my mother, just to tell her I love her.
Long and short of it, this album is a little slice of brilliance from an up-and-comer that will not disappoint. And if listening to it makes you feel like the main character in a Cormac McCarthy novel, well, it's a risk well worth taking.