Review Summary: A short but beautiful and enormous sounding EP.
Michigan's Nika Danilova (aka: Zola Jesus) has only been releasing music for a couple years now. A couple 7" releases are all she had before she released her debut LP, The Spoils
, last year on Sacred Bones. It was a slightly beguiling release: a mix of thick haze, disarming static, and pulsating synths and drumachines. But sitting somewhere in the fog was Nika Danilova. She is a trained opera singer, and she can knock your socks off with one note. Her voice was the focus of every song on the album, even when it was so ground into the mix. Such a powerful, dramatic instrument coming from such a fragile, small, young woman (she is only twenty one years old). It was surprising she sounded so assured and strong, given her newness on the lo-fi scene.
Less than a year later comes this little nuggest of goodness, her Stridulum
EP. And while her debut was something of a small masterpiece, this EP shows a marked improvement. The music is more diverse between the tracks -- (on her debut you could skip to the middle of any song and think it sounds the same as the previous one.) -- and her voice is more in the forefront of the mix. Old songs like "Six Feet From my Baby" and "Clay Bodies" were fantastic, but left you craving her a little more than she was willing to put out. She was clearly the focal point, but now she is front and center instead of backstage behind a wall. There's still an immense density to the deceptively simple arrangements surrounding her, but she has shed more light on herself.
And all the better for it. The EP kicks off with "Night," a gorgeous song that is a prime example of the new Zola Jesus. Starting with a low humming synth and whispered fragments, it builds into a nocturnal, carniverous piece of work. "In the end of the night, we'll be together again," Danilova sings, and she sounds pretty sure of herself. These accessible, simple lyrics pop up more frequently throughout the album: "It's not easy to fall in love," or "When you're lost, know I'll be around." The urgency of these lyrics comes off as human and engrossing, though, not as fickle cliches. Her voice rounds out almost every corner of this release, either with wondrous words or operatic high notes in the back that you may mistake of a string section.
The only issue is the last two tracks. They are both wonderful songs, and "Run Me Out" is probably the most beautiful thing she's ever done, and so the problem doesn't lie within the songs. The problem is that they both sound like they're contending to be the final number. They're both dramatic and passionate, and they both seem like fitting finales to a short but beautiful and enormous sounding EP. But this is just nitpicking, considering the strength of every single one of these tunes. "Trust me / 'Cause I will be here," she pleads on the brief but dark "Trust Me," and with a voice like hers, that makes you feel like the world will end if you don't, you have no choice but to believe her.
Key Tracks: I Can't Stand, Run Me Out