Though my Nika Roza fandom has existed since I first came across her, my Zola Jesus fandom is one that seems to swell incrementally each time a new record is released. The Spoils is a good record, but Stridulum II is a great record. In fact, Stridulum II (2010) is one of those few records that I’ve lived with the entire year. So, although I anticipated Conatus, which came out last week, I was almost scared to listen – fearing heart pains if it didn’t prove to be as great as its most recent full-length predecessor.
“Swords,” the intro, actually tells me quite a lot about the record in its one-minute span. Electronic samples are brighter and more precise this time, as opposed to blended and lo-fi like before. There’s more playing with the frequency knob this time, drawing sounds close and then pushing them away, as if we were watching the story of this record like a peep show, through a square glass window. But Conatus doesn’t come in a box.
“Avalanche” was the only press tune I’d previously heard. I knew that the lead vocals would be louder and clearer, with the backups dancing around like ghosts, just as Zola Jesus vocals always have. The music is shaped around them better this time. And, though some great technological discoveries seem to make Conatus shine, it’s an oral tale.
I adore the strings on “In Your Nature” and “Hikikomori,” and the atypical beat patterns that eventually flow into something danceable, and then gradually flow out of your hands in the same almost-subtle fashion as they came. Parts run in and out of each other smoother and more subtly on Conatus, in general. “Seekir” boasts more of a traditional indie/electro beat foundation, though it is inverted and altered towards the end of the song, allowing the listener’s memory of it to sit somewhere between experimental and mod electro (intangible vs. graspable, I guess). By the way, the reversed vocals on that song are divine.
The way backups repeat and ring out through ends of certain numbers, like on “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake,” which is laden with flowing repetition and consistency, makes them eternal. Vocals on songs like “Ixode” and “Skin” are downright sweet. Again, to compare to the one that I already treasure, I feel that Stridulum II was the ‘aha’ moment – the time when I said, ‘Yes! Now I see who, or what, Nika intends Zola Jesus to be. Conatus, whether I’ll like it more, less or equally, seems to be the manifestation of the intention – Zola Jesus seems realized here.
The love and pains and revelations that come with this record are real and personal. The stories are close, the narration is one-on-one, and the music fully supports that this time. I think, on Stridulum II, the music and the lyrics (not vocals, but the actual words and lines) existed oppositely – they co-existed, but they didn’t work together as well as they do on Conatus, which makes Stridulum II the pained love in your head and Conatus the pained love in your bed, so to speak. It’s not as abstract, and not as much an extension of your own emotions, but it’s physically closer.
Current Tour Dates:
10/12 – Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL
10/13 – The Blind Pig, Ann Arbor, MI
10/14 – The Mod Club, Toronto, ON
10/15 – II Motore, Montreal, QC
10/17 – Brighton Music Hall, Boston, MA
10/18 – Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY
10/19 – Le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY
10/20 – First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, PA
10/21 – Black Cat, Washington, D.C.
10/22 – Ottobar, Baltimore, MD
10/24 – Local 506, Chapel Hill, NC
10/25 – The E.A.R.L., Atlanta, GA
10/26 – Siberia, New Orleans, LA
10/28 – Dan’s Silverleaf, Denton, TX
10/29 – Mohawk, Austin, TX
10/31 – Echoplex, Los Angeles, CA
11/01 – The Independent, San Francisco, CA
11/17 – Stad Garden, Koln (Germany)
11/18 – Karstelbahnhoff, Haideburg (Germany)
11/19 – Orangehouse, Munich (Germany)