Zola Jesus sharpens her sound

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Zola Jesus
  • Zola Jesus
Wisconsin Goth chanteuse Zola Jesus relocated to Los Angeles last year, escaping the indifference she’s said she felt in her home state. Judging from her new album Conatus (Sacred Bones) it seems as though the move brought her some clarity if not exactly a burst of sunshine (although her hair has gone from jet black to white-blonde). Her singing is stronger and more assured (even though her lyrics remain difficult to decipher), her songs are sturdier and more melodically bold, and her backing tracks—which she created herself with the exception of some strings on a handful of tunes—are sharper and more powerful. (Former Chicagoan Brian Foote co-produced the album and surely provided some of the technical improvement).

As Reader contributor Jessica Hopper noted in her recent review of the album in Spin, “she's not just making songs for herself anymore. They're being created for live performance, for an audience, for fans who may enjoy dancing in lacy cloaks.” I don’t know about the lacy cloaks, but there’s no doubt these tunes are way more propulsive without losing the emphasis on her outsized voice; she’s been performing steadily over the last few years and she’s certainly learned a thing or two about working an audience.

Her instrument is much throatier, fuller, and commanding than Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins (it still resembles Siouxsie Sioux more than anyone else), but she uses it in a very similar way, working over melodic lines with calligraphic flourishes—all swoops, curlicues, and trills. Her overdubbed backing vocals aim for the angelic, giving the songs as much color and heft as the synth patterns that pulse and glide over her tough electronic beats, and these new tunes push ever so subtly toward pop music. As much as I enjoyed her earlier work, it was often washed out in thick waves of murky reverb. These songs are not exactly catchy, but there’s an anthemic quality to her meticulously pitched wails that's undeniably gripping. Below you can watch the video for “Vessel” and then you can listen to another tune from the new album. Zola Jesus performs tonight at Lincoln Hall.

Zola Jesus, "Seekir":

photo: Angel Ceballos

Today’s playlist:

Carlos Bica + Matéria Prima, Carlos Bica + Matéria Prima (Clean Feed)
Benoît Delbecq Trio, The Sixth Jump (Songlines)
Synnøve S. Bjørset, Åse Teigland & Anne Hytta, Soli (Talik)
Dolly Parton, Better Day (Dolly)
Alton Ellis, I’m Still in Love With You Featuring Hortense Ellis (Heartbeat)

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