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4.2 out of 5 stars11
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 16 November 2011
Mainly thanks to the hugely well-received Stridulum EP (as well as its expanded re-release: Stridulum II) the diminutive Nika Roza Danilova is hot property. Instead, however, of going for broke with Conatus, Danilova puts forth a more subtle collection than perhaps could have been expected.

Her industrial notes are still present, raising their head via foreboding synth scales on "Avalanche". So, too, are her impressive, operatically-trained pipes, but they now often plump for deeper sequences, rather than squarely aiming to bring down the house. Generally though, Conatus is treated to a softer electronic palette than its predecessors - one, perhaps, indicative of a greater recording budget.

Nevertheless, in holding back, the album feels airy. Danilova, like careful Canadian pop producers New Look and like The xx before them, isn't afraid of space. Her arrangements aren't crowded as a result, yet they seem set at a distance from the hushed atmospherics of earlier material all the same - and further still from the more linear lo-fi clatter of forgotten debut The Spoils.

With that in mind, the delayed vocal loops that herald "Vessel" allow the track to echo around its dramatic setting, before it all inevitably rounds out to a bleak chorus of sorts. For there is pop in Conatus's heart, but occasionally it takes some finding. Stepping out of the shadows, "Seekir" is at the more obvious end of this scale, bringing to mind a shyer, albeit more vocally interesting, new wave cut from Yeah Yeah Yeahs' silky It's Blitz! in the process.

Conatus builds throughout, but climax never truly comes. There may be no breath-taking standout to rival the shimmer of "Night" or the raw power of "Run Me Out", but the suspenseful "Hikikomori", which is warmed by strings throughout, threatens similar territory while still showing Florence the exit in terms of emotive balladeering. The curiously named "Lick The Palm Of The Burning Handshake" could equally have really gone for it, exploding with stygian crescendo on top of immaculate operatic high notes, but it's restraint is probably also its power.

Still capable of surprising, Danilova's best played ace however comes in terms of comparison. The driving "Ixode" suggests it, and the distant vocal backing on "Skin" evocatively confirms it, as, through fairly heavy use of vocal looping and delay, an affinity with 2011 naturalistic newcomer Julianna Barwick is more than hinted at. Both manage to evoke an ethereal chatter ideal to sound-tracking fast-forwarded, helicopter-mounted camera work on geographic documentaries - something the organic existentialism of the album title Conatus may doubly confirm.

Insulation is required in order to stay hot, and Danilova's Conatus is duly swaddled in effective, frosty gauze. Inside, she's quietly thriving, burning brightly.

Advised downloads: "Vessel" and "Hikikomori".
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on 13 April 2013
I caved after being told to listen to Zola Jesus for a long time by various lurking gremlins, and I was very surprised by what I found. Picked it up without hearing anything from HMV and I was blown away by the album. A fantastic experimental album with a nice balance on melody and Ms Jesus' haunting voice. Its sleepy music for late night working or walking the dog across snow bleached fields.

My only criticism is that the songs are all a bit similar. Theres not much variety, but if you are ready for an album of weird ghost-musics; This is for you.
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Zola Jesus (born Nika Roza Danilova) made me sit up and listen with
her 2010 release 'Stridulum II'. Ms Jesus is a Creature Of The Night,
of this there can be little doubt. Her music arises out of the shadowy
realm, where the air is thick with smoke from a thousand funeral pyres.
I understand that she eschews the notion that her creations are Gothic
in intent but it is hard not feel the presence of the wolf at the door
and the bats in the belfry in this wonderfully gloomy new collection.

'Conatus' does not take us too far away from the territory where she
clearly feels most at home but in these ten songs and their brief,
clattering wordless introduction 'Swords' there is a greater sense
of form and melody present than of yore, together with a more economical
use of reverb, which allows us to hear what a fine voice she possesses.

The doomy washes of synth and thundering percussion which define her
best work are both present and correct but there is a (dare I say it!) a
lightness and warmth creeping into her songs which extends her emotional
sound palette considerably. Take a song like 'Vessel' : crikey it would
not take too much of an imaginative leap (its apocalyptic ending
notwithstanding) to think of it in Adele's recent bluesy/gospel repertoire.
'Hikikomori', too, has a fine soulful tune, punctuated by a well-considered
string arrangement which enhances its anthemic pagan qualities admirably.
'Seekir' would not sound out of place on some of the World's more arcane
subterranean dancefloors and 'Shivers' twitches and trembles gainfully.

It is to 'Skin', however, which we must turn to experience Ms Zola's very
finest moment. It is a moving and strangely beautiful composition; the
simple piano accompaniment and ethereal harmonies framing a central vocal
performance of stark intensity and powerful affective authenticity.

I've come with her this far. It looks like I'm in it for the long haul!

Highly Recommended.
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on 9 March 2013
4 stars or 5?

Descriptions always sink to comparisons in my mind, which is always a dis-service to the new and individual, but here goes - vocally Siouxsie Sioux with touches of Liz Fraser and Florence Welch, musically a fantastic mix of Soap and Skin, Patti Smith, Cocteaus, St Vincent and ???.

All are favourites here, and so now, is Zola/Nika. Fabulous album - music to sit and absorb, and marvel at, and hope and pray for more to come.
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on 10 May 2013
Vocally Zola Jesus will inevitably draw similarities with Florence Welch but this album is far more ethereal, emotive and sombre in sound and for this reason reminds me more of the classic 4AD bands from yesteryear like the Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance - Pure bliss.
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on 25 October 2013
I've had this CD a while now. I still can't decide whether I like it. I must because I'm still playing it. Not very often, granted. When you do play it you don't have the urge to play it again, or soon. But you find yourself sticking it into your player and wondering..
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on 22 November 2013
This review comes from an internet game. You buy an album you've never heard of from a shop. Then you write your impression of it before and after listening to it for the first time.

---BEFORE LISTENING TO IT---

WHY DID YOU SELECT THIS ONE? It was cheap and it had a pretty girl on the cover.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE COVER? It's a nice, mostly white and grey image of a blonde with dark eyebrows wrapped in a sheet. It's a good, striking image.

WHAT TYPE OF MUSIC ARE YOU REALISTICALLY EXPECTING? I expect cold, emotionally distant, piercingly loud octave jumping female vocals by a trained musician. I half suspect this could be borderline classical music with strings and cellos and violins etc. I will be surprised if there's any guitar on the album. I don't expect an easy listen. There is no way songs with titles like `Hikikomori' or `Ixode' are fun, easy to digest songs. As soon as people start with the made up words, it's time to get scared (assuming they're not in a foreign language or referring to prescription drugs or something). `Avalanche' brings to mind the Leonard Cohen song of the same name. `Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake' has to be a weird song. I also suspect the pacing will often be slow and dirge-like.

BEST CASE SCENARIO IT WILL SOUND LIKE? Challenging, obtuse music that can be penetrated after about eight listens to reveal greatness.

WORST CASE SCENARIO IT WILL SOUND LIKE? Just really horrible crap that tries the patience without any hints of future rewards if you keep at it.

HIGH, LOW OR MIDDLING EXPECTATIONS? Middling.

---AFTER LISTENING TO IT---

WHAT DID IT SOUND LIKE? Like Nine Inch Nails with the heavy metal element removed. It seemed to be mostly ambient washes of synths and twitchy drum machines with the occasional piano. Her voice is a bit like a smacked out Siouxsie Sioux. Her words are, at least on this first listen, hard to make out. She has a strangely dramatic delivery.

I got the impression she was a one man band like Trent Reznor, which seems to be borne out by the credit that reads `Performed by Nika Roza Danilova'. As for the synths, the settings have been switched from `Dance Club' to `Church'. There is a definite touch of goth to her music. She reminds me of many different reference points (NIN, The Knife, Mazzy Star, Siouxsie, Susanne Sundfør), but I can't pin her down to one specifically. I guess she is equally influenced by a lot of sources but is doing her own original thing so she doesn't sound too much like anyone else.

DID YOU LIKE IT? Yes. Very pretty sounding music.

DID IT SATISFY, SURPASS OR FAIL YOUR EXPECTATIONS? It was nothing like what I expected so I can't really answer that.

WHAT ARE THE BEST SONGS? `Avalanche', `Vessel' and `In Your Nature'.

WHAT ARE THE WEAKEST SONGS? `Swords' (pointless short instrumental opener), `Seekir', `Skin' (slow piano dirge) and `Collapse'.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND IT TO OTHERS? Yes. Interesting voice and the 40 minute album is free of any clunkers. At its worst it's just average.

PLEASE DESCRIBE AND SUM IT UP IN ONE SENTENCE. An appealing gothic ambient album with proper songs and a distinctive singer.

ANY OTHER COMMENTS? She sings on the song `Intro' from the Hurry Up, We're Dreaming album by M83.

---TWO MONTHS LATER---

HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE PLAYED IT? Maybe two or three times as an album, and a lot on shuffle.

HAS THE ALBUM IMPROVED OR WORSENED WITH TIME? Stayed the same. It's a decent album, but not one I can get that excited about. It's more solid than anything special.

ANY PREVIOUSLY UNNOTICED SONGS NOW A NEW FAVOURITE? No.

ANY OTHER COMMENTS? 'appealing gothic ambient album with proper songs and a distinctive singer'. I have to backtrack a little on that last part. From my review of Kyla La Grange's Ashes (2012) album:

'I bought an album called Conatus (2011) by Zola Jesus at the same time [as Ashes]. The two of them have been played on shuffle together along with other music. The two albums have now become confused in my mind. You might face palm yourself when I say this, but I struggle to tell them apart. If I play them side by side I can tell which is which, but when played among other artists I can get confused. The singers sound very similar in my opinion, and their music is also rather similar despite one being folk-rock and the other gothic soundscapes. What can I say, I'm not that smart. So if you like this then you should also like the other one.'
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on 17 March 2014
I thought that after the first album this was, by comparison, rather dull and uninspiring. The tracks were not very varied or engaging.
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on 24 July 2015
Everything I love about this artist is on this CD. Wonderful vocals. Yes.
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on 1 January 2012
The two previous reviews are both intelligent and accurate. All I wish to add is that, from my perspective, "Conatus" builds a cohesive work from the the elements that made "Stridulum 11" so surprising. And, as such, is a superior Cd.
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