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Zola Jesus
Versions Kevin Mccaighy , August 23rd, 2013 06:50

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Nika Danilova's music as Zola Jesus has advanced so far in such a short space of time that she operates within a vanguard of experimental artists willing to think as far forward as they dare. The stentorian chill of her 2011 album Conatus finally fades in the face of Versions, an exhilarating release that commemorates her performance at the Guggenheim in New York, in collaboration with the avant garde creator/composer JG Thirlwell. As Danilova has explained, this commission offered a chance to both look backwards throughout her career and forge a new path through it: "Versions is about the bone of the music; taking approximations from past records and turning them inside out. With all framework exposed, the songs are given a new medium in which to evolve and bloom into their own tiny worlds."

In conjunction with Danilova, Thirlwell doesn’t so much as strip away down the songs as garland them with newfound aural and emotional musculature. Aided by the exquisite skill and sensitivity of the Mivos Quartet, a series of key tracks from Stridulum II and Conatus are swathed in swooping plumages of strings that allow Danilova the space she requires to tread the unexplored avenues within her compositions. The desolate realm rendered by 'Avalanche (Slow)' is a spellbinding entry to this environment, spare yet vivid, with Danilova’s fragile, foreground vocal commanding all attention. (A performance of the song at the Guggenheim can be viewed here.)

It is closely followed by 'Fall Back', a searing new track that demonstrates Danilova’s authority as a composer and vocalist, a perfect assimilation of experimentation and effusive pop sensibilities that builds from violin to a thrilling percussive climax. On the likes of 'Seekir' and 'Run Me Out', Danilova expands her already formidable range even further, with layers of multi tracked vocals. Indeed, even the best known and loved of Danilova’s tracks, such as 'Night' and 'Sea Talk', emerge as new from Thirlwell's expert and empathetic approach. The humanity that lurked only fitfully within the crepuscular terrain of 'Night' is truly illuminated here. Each track in turn shakes loose of its original recorded incarnation to take on intimate and seductive new forms, reflecting the exultant and reciprocal nature of the pair's collaboration. More than a mere souvenir or stopgap, Versions is a sumptuous release that affirms both the increasingly unique and essential nature of Zola Jesus' music and the enduring genius of JG Thirlwell.

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Aug 23, 2013 12:33pm

Where did you find this review? Livejournal?

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Aug 23, 2013 6:58pm

I've generally found Thirwell, and his work as Foetus, to be pretty hamfisted. It works to good effect when he's soundtracking the Venture Brothers cartoon.

Then I heard his album "Manorexia," which was recorded with a small chamber group, and was finally deeply impressed and entertained. This sounds like it might be something along similar lines.

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Kevin McCaighy
Aug 24, 2013 2:29pm

In reply to Louis:

What is that supposed to mean?

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Aug 26, 2013 9:25pm

Speaking as an admirer of both Danilova and Thirlwell, this certainly reads more like a press release than a balanced album review. I don't disagree with anything said (I really like the record, too) but it doesn't read as any sort of objective criticism.

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Kevin McCaighy
Aug 27, 2013 12:29pm

In reply to Stephen:

I was trying to be objective in my review, and tried to write something positive without going too far. I guess I didn't go far enough for some. If you can't tell what I think of the album from this, look again.

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