Zola Jesus
Conatus


4.0
excellent

Review

by Irving Tan STAFF
October 2nd, 2011 | 48 replies | 8,343 views


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: An exercise in the act of cathartic release.

When it comes to describing Zola Jesus’ sound, oftentimes I find myself lapsing into a series of uncontrollable syntactical histrionics (see - already guilty as charged). Next, I lose all the critical credibility that I ever had as I spiral in and out of the vortex that is my own linguistic vanity. But even if I were not wont to match Zola Jesus’ apocalypse-invoking performances with a few ostentatiously-worded passages of my own (guilty again), any attempt on my part to quantify Conatus, the experimental duo’s latest record, would likely require me to give at least some passing reference to the manner in which they successfully melded their post-industrial heritage to a set of well-worn Gothic sensibilities. However to do that would be to render Zola Jesus a massive disservice: the band's craft is one that is recognizably human, and to distill it into its composite elements – in the manner of a scientist unfeelingly parting an inanimate chemical compound – smacks to me of both unnecessary and bottomless irreverence.

So permit me instead to backtrack a little and consider Zola Jesus from afar, for even within the range of the band’s accomplishments there are still some sizeable gaps worth exploring. The largest of these chasms, surely, is the alienating production behind 2009’s The Spoils, whose notoriously lo-fi production never could appeal to the thin patience of the masses. Heck, even lead vocalist Nika Roza Danilova’s own parents agreed – famously shrieking “Why is the quality so bad?! You need to get into a real studio!” at their only daughter. Elsewhere, the Valusia EP, demanded too little and lacked the certitudes of a band on the cusp of its third LP. The pair’s insistence – once again – on exploring notions of bleakness and despair, while not entirely unexpected, was still a bit of a cop-out. Thus, it was of no surprise that the EP ultimately washed ashore a mere week later – putrid, bloated, and blue; all debts paid in full.

But for every failure there has been a success of equal measure: the brilliant Stridulum EP above all, but almost as important, if not more so, was the manner in which Stridulum II marched purposefully towards both philosophical clarity and mainstream accessibility. In both releases, Danilova’s sonorous trappings – long regarded as the biggest weapon in the band’s commendable arsenal – were in their element, effortlessly performing a sinister baroque that was both massive in manner yet threadbare in aesthetic. Elsewhere, the way in which programmer-in-chief Alex DeGroot integrated his synth pads and drum machines into the mix was at once slightly retro yet meaningfully futuristic – which is to say that both he and Danilova were always hinting ominously at the possibility of even greater things to come.

Conatus is thus made extremely difficult to scan. On one hand, the members of Zola Jesus have retreated deeper into themselves in order to produce more of their trademark work, yet few of their previous works ring with the same sort of impassioned fortitude. Despite this being her third full studio outing, Danilova still intones her lyrics with the magniloquence of one only recently possessed; yet the manner in which she presents herself is more dramatic than ever. Deeper in the mix, DeGroot finds symmetry and balance in everything, compulsively preening and chopping up even a simple opener such as “Swords” until it is able to swing from resolute calm to pure chaos in a matter of seconds.

Massively arranged soundtracks to impossible sonic daydreams are all the rage here on Conatus. One number in particular – “Shivers” – has Danilova mouthing malformed phrases that are so utterly incomprehensible that one is likely to lean back and check the temperature of one's forehead. Yet the manner in which the track’s hi-hat beat surprises – by creeping right up to a wall of cavernous reverb and stopping mere inches from it – makes for a terrific first impression. There are also instances where the band appears more likely to bust out the perfect pop tune than cart us away into cathartic bliss: during the chorus of “In Your Nature” for instance, Danilova presents us with the sort of languidly indifferent refrain that has all the gloss of a Lady GaGa hit but none of its meandering emptiness. “If it’s in your nature…you’ll never win,” she explains, leaving us to wonder if all our struggles to improve ourselves will all be in vain.

But even when viewed independently, the songs themselves are remarkable. Mid-album track “Seekir” is at once visceral and haunting, featuring the kind of weirdly shimmering vibe that always seems to be stuck halfway between being a Nine Inch Nails anthem and a dancefloor hit – as if it simply can’t decide which way it wants to swing. Elsewhere, although “Ixode” can’t quite outmuscle “Hikikomori” from being the album’s centerpiece, it demonstrates Danilova's and DeGroot’s ease at swinging back at forth between the former’s massive, flesh-and-blood delivery and catatonic digital samples. It's the kind of unbridled joy completely worth losing all your music-reviewing chops for - as long as you get your point across: that this might just be the best damn thing that you've listened to all year.



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user ratings (83)
Chart.
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Irving
Staff Reviewer
October 2nd 2011



7011 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

If it's in your nature, you'll never win.

My first meta-review.

Edit: Stream - http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2011/sep/22/zola-jesus-conatus-album-stream

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 2nd 2011



15693 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

magniloquence

hot damn

Digging: Nmesh - Dream Sequins [AMDISCS]

psykonaut
October 2nd 2011



3913 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Danilova’s sonorous trappings – long since regarded as the biggest weapon in the band’s commendable arsenal – were in their element, effortlessly performing a sinister baroque that was both massive in manner yet threadbare in aesthetic.

god damn i love your diction. terrific review as always

Irving
Staff Reviewer
October 2nd 2011



7011 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Fuck yeah Adam Downer read at least HALF of this!

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 2nd 2011



15693 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

review is good but some of your track descriptions are a little out there, i.e. "dancefloor booty licker" and "auditory liquid metal." i was more on board when you were giving the context, but the latter half got a tad hyperbolic. still, chops are there, good job man

album's alright but underwhelming

CasinoColumbus
October 2nd 2011



340 Comments


Irving for contributor! Don't think I would like this though.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
October 2nd 2011



7011 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"dancefloor booty licker"

SHIT is that still there?!

SowingSeason
Emeritus
October 2nd 2011



14511 Comments


Your vocabulary is massive man. I agree with Downer that some of your descriptions are head-scratchers, but that's one of only a few areas I can see you improving. Otherwise, solid all-around review as always and a big pos.

pizzamachine
October 2nd 2011



12568 Comments


Gotta love the thesaurus. :] pos

AggravatedYeti
October 2nd 2011



7684 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

need this album.

AngelofDeath
Staff Reviewer
October 2nd 2011



16126 Comments


Good review, but I can't say I quite took away the same things you did from this album. The
minimalistic approach didn't translate here for me at all. I found the album to be pretty one-note and
tedious to sit through.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
October 2nd 2011



7011 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Woke up from bed to edit this review based on the comments I received; simply couldn't stop thinking about them. In any case, I think the review has been substantially improved. Thanks for your readership guys, and feel free to keep commenting/pointing out stuff that I can improve on. Cheers!

And now I must really get back to bed. I leave for work at a petroleum company in five hours. Egad.

Tyrael
October 2nd 2011



20394 Comments


So i herd you were fishing for a feature once again?

Great review as usual Irving! Pos.

Digging: Lantlos - Melting Sun

foxblood
October 2nd 2011



6797 Comments


this girl is quite attractive, but her music on the other hand i can't seem to form much of an opinion about one way or the other.
pos for sure

jeremologyy
October 2nd 2011



259 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i quite enjoy this album. Vessel and Shivers are my favorite, and of course Hikikomori is awesome.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
October 2nd 2011



7011 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

So i herd you were fishing for a feature once again?

Ah bugger. Caught.

WashboardSuds
October 2nd 2011



4887 Comments


heard some of her stuff and it wasn't bad, just not really my thing

Digging: Nmesh - Dream Sequins

taylormemer
October 3rd 2011



4887 Comments


So did you borrow those first few sentences from p4k?

Irving
Staff Reviewer
October 3rd 2011



7011 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

@ taylormemer: Yes; a fraction of the first sentence was definitely inspired by something I had read
in a P4k piece.

("borrowing" is a harsh term to use though, if I may say so myself)

taylormemer
October 3rd 2011



4887 Comments


But it's like, you simply had to insert the concept about "wordyness" equally "wordy" music influencing said writers, which is pretty much the same concept in said p4k review.

It's not verbatim in terms of wording, but the tone certainly shares, parhaps, a little too much similarity if I can go by that expression.

I'm not trying to eat your face here btw.



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