Zola Jesus


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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