There’s a fine line between intriguing gothic music and over-the-top gothic music, but Zola Jesus (a.k.a. Nika Roza Danilova) has done a fantastic balancing act on Conatus. Her music is honest and it shows in the positive reviews that keep showing up all over the indie rock blogosphere.
Everything about Danilova’s well known back story screams camp, to the point where one still has trouble believing that it’s all true. She produced her first album in her apartment while studying philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she named her band Zola Jesus in order to alienate her peers (is it 1955 again?), and to top it all off, it wouldn’t feel remotely out of place to have “In Your Nature” sound tracking some climactic moment between Bella and Edward in Breaking Dawn.
Despite all of these potential pitfalls, Conatus still soars. The vocals are again spectacular and the music is just the right mix of soft and abrasive; one is already excited to see where she goes from here. The album starts strongly with the rumbling drum and bass of “Swords,” a seemingly odd choice for an opening track, but it’s like her opening salvo. Then after a quick minute, she lets the cascading “Avalanche” suck you in. By the time “In Your Nature” hits its peak, your heart has already broken enough times to fill an entire after-school special. The album really takes off with the battle-march drums and tasteful strings of “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake”. And to finish off, “Shivers”, “Skin” and “Collapse” live up to their names and provide the perfect come down, letting the album end appropriately with a whimper.
Conatus was the word the Dutch philosopher Spinoza used to explain the force in every animate creature toward the preservation of its existence, and Danilova’s work lives up to its title. She makes this album notable through nothing but sheer force of will, and a lot of weirdo charisma to boot. After the brilliance of Stridulum II and now this solid follow-up, it’s safe to say she has established herself as an artist with vision and the ability to execute it. All of the doubts that she would be unable to adapt enough to create something new should by now be completely gone. She couldn’t be more primed to create her own Treasure or Love Comes Close.