Zola Jesus — Conatus
Out now on Sacred Bones (buy)
On Nika Roza Danilova’s third album as Zola Jesus, the 22-year-old songwriter leaves behind the harsh noise and lo-fi bedroom goth approach of her earlier releases and flourishes in her elegant new sonic environment.
Any of Zola Jesus’s earlier releases will prove that Danilova’s always had a stunning voice, a seductive and disarming wail. On “Conatus” she seems right at home with the crystalline IDM beats, elusive bowed strings and the ever-present icy synthesizer. Her songs frequently break into blissful dance floor beats, but remain meditative.
Album opener “Swords” functions as a sort of mission statement. Danilova makes her new palette of sounds known immediately as the song explodes with an attack of metallic glitching and a deep pounding as her ethereal and instantly likable moan hangs back at a reverb-soaked distance.
“Ixode” and “Seekir,” beside each other in the track listing, compete for high point of the album. “Ixode” has the finest vocal moment on Conatus; an angelic performance in a higher register than the singer usually ventures to. “Seekir” begins with a brooding wordless chant but breaks into an athletic sprint for the chorus. On these songs, Danilova sounds endlessly alluring and more in control of her voice than ever.
The downside is that if you’re not into Zola Jesus’ take on chic goth-pop, the album may begin to feel like a dirge. There isn’t a tremendous amount of variation as the instrumentation and approach remains consistent from song to song. Listeners who stick with “Conatus” to the end will be rewarded. “Skin” sounds nude, having only piano and voice, and “Collapse” is a heart-breaking and straightforward closer drowning in heavy waves of synth.
“Conatus” engages the listener intimately and lends itself to being enjoyed alone. The punchy beats may feel dance oriented, but they’ll stir you internally more than they will on any dance floor.
Prince Rama – Trust Now
Out now on Paw Tracks (buy)
“Trust Now,” the latest from Prince Rama, is an expansive and otherworldly collection of psychedelia. Notably, instead of being intimidating or inaccessible, the musical depth of the album turns out to be enchanting.
In the current post-Animal Collective musical landscape dominated by freaky, shout-along, “tribal” psych-pop, Prince Rama are a dazzling gem of authenticity. Sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson have pretty outstanding cred — they were raised in a Hare-Krishna community, had their last album produced by Avey Tare and Deakin of Animal Collective (for AC’s own Paw Tracks label), released an outsider artist-inspired concept album last year and recorded “Trust Now” in a 19th century church. Wild stuff.
The Prince Rama sisters seemingly have a hazy temple full of extraterrestrial musical instruments. There are about 500 different sounds happening at any given moment on “Trust Now” — but every time a new shrieking synthesizer or pulsating bell tone comes into the picture, it feels deliberate and well-placed. Over the course of the six-song album, the sisters propel along with an array of drums and punctual cymbal crashes.
Here’s what else can be expected throughout “Trust Now”: chants, drones and gorgeous melodies. The vocals are treated to make the original voices inseparable from the trails of decaying reverb they fill.
“Portaling” has got it all — the writhing synths, the droning middle section, the flickering electronics. The track’s ending is the most cathartic moment on all of “Trust Now”: a shimmery guitar pattern giving way to a dreamy and celebratory vocal arrangement.
The sounds on this record exist in the same fantastic space as an ancient anomaly — like an archaeological discovery that suggests the Mayans were flying around in spaceships and using a primitive version of the internet. That is to say, it’s haunting, celestial, exotic, and fun.