Nika Roza Danilova, or Zola Jesus, is known for her trademark blend of orchestral gothic extravagance and industrial experimental drone. Danilova’s deep yet lavish vocals reflect her haunting melodies and morose, heart-wrenching lyrics.
That is, until Versions.
In her fourth studio album, Versions, Danilova strips away a good amount of her ornate, heavy style to reveal her more musically vulnerable side. With the help of Foetus’ J.G. Thirlwell and the Mivos Quartet, Danilova was able to downplay some of her in-your-face heaviness and take a more subdued path that hones in on beautiful melodies, giving new life to her melancholic themes.
The album features some of Danilova’s most notable songs from the past, but approached in a softer manner. Some of the most noteworthy reincarnations includes a more organic “Sea Talk,” a purer “Seekir,” and a soothing “Avalanche.” In fact, one of the most inspiring tracks on the album, the melancholic and stripped-down opener, “Avalanche (Slow),” least resembles the old Zola Jesus.
The single introduces the calmer, more innocent-sounding version of Zola Jesus. Combining inspiring strings with her flawless, sparkling vocals and a dreamy melody, “Avalanche (Slow)” thrusts her listeners into a new state of mind. Gone are the days of gothic moans. Here we encounter the vulnerability that was once only to be found behind Danilova’s lyrics.
“I let it all go / in my heart, in my body / in all,” Danilova sings. Her innocent vocals finally reflect the core of her longing, when in the past they mainly revealed her pain and the utter anguish within each lyric. There is so much more to discover from this already inspiring song when viewed in a fresh light.
Although she opens Versions with a song that diverges so much from her past work, Danilova hints at her traditional style throughout the rest of the album, flexing creative muscles and showing that her vocal talent is in fact varied.
Following “Avalanche (Slow),” Danilova breaks into the standout track “Fall Back,” in which she combines her wonderfully trained, more classical vocal style with her powerful belting abilities. This contrast is reflected in her lyrics in which she struggles between strength (“I am not afraid to let go”) and unadulterated desire (“I would do anything to be the one with you, forever”), which eventually takes over.
Another stand-out on Versions is “In Your Nature,” a track in which her blend of vocal styles, stunning strings, and inspiring beats take listeners along an emotional journey. “Then you go down, down that old regarded road / and I’m not the one to say I told you so,” she sings, combining her operatic and experimental tendencies. “If it’s in your nature, you’ll never win.”
In general, Zola Jesus songs bare all emotionally. But when she morphs and expands upon her traditional style, Danilova proves that her unique sound is not formulaic, but nuanced and moldable. Although Versions could be a let-down for fans who were craving her more gothic, darker style, I appreciate Zola Jesus’ willingness to grow and cultivate a myriad of styles. And when an artist reveals an album as beautiful as Versions, they are deserving of the appreciation.
Get tickets to see Zola Jesus live at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever on September 27. Hurry up! Tickets will go fast.
Zola Jesus Tour Dates:
09-12 Philadelphia, PA – International House
09-13 Boston, MA – Institute Contemporary Art Boston
09-14 Brooklyn, NY – Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral
09-22 Saint Paul, MN – St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
09-26 San Francisco, CA – Palace of Fine Arts
09-27 Los Angeles, CA – Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever
09-28 Seattle, WA – The Triple Door
10-03 London, England – Tabernacle
10-04 Paris, France – Café de la Danse
10-04 Berlin, Germany – Hau1
10-24 Chicago, IL – Garfield Park Observatory
10-25 Washington, DC – Hirshhorn Museum
10-26 Asheville, NC – Mountain Oasis
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