Zola Jesus - Stridulum II

by Steve Rhodes Rating:7.5 Release Date:2010-08-23

Zola Jesus is the project of Wisconsin-born, Nika Rosa Danilova, who also moonlights as one third of arch-misreablists Former Ghosts. Thankfully in her solo guise as Zola Jesus, Nika lightens up a little and carries this on her latest release Stridulum II (EP), an album which wears its influences very much on its sleeve.

'Night' is a synth drenched and fairly moody opener, dominated by Nika's powerful vocals and is ably supported by a primitive militaristic drum-machine backing. It channels the energy of The XX, Bat for Lashes, or a softer version of Diamanda Galas, but the clearest influence is Siouxsie and it nicely sums up the album.

Following this theme, 'Trust Me' is a slower number with a haunting synth and a slightly Germanic vocal that evokes the ghost of Nico or Sandie Shaw. 'I Can't Stand' could easily fit onto The Cure's epic Disintegration album and 'Manifest Destiny' sounds like a goth-tinged triumphant mixture of Kate Bush and Martika.

While the album is full of reassuring lyrics - "Trust me", "It's gonna be alright" and "Don't you worry about a thing" - it suffers from a fairly languid pace, an absence of warmth and little to distinguish between most songs. The simplicity of the synths and the repetitive drumming, while allowing Nika's vocal to stand out, seem like a afterthought and the whole album comes across as a rather forgettable and colder version of Fever Ray, without the budget.

'Run Me Out' is an arguable exception to this, while it starts being clogged by the same muggy atmospherics that dogs a large part of the album, it builds into a satisfying uplifting climax. The clear highlight though is 'Sea Talk'. It is a beautifully optimistic song, that could fit easily on OMD's classic Architecture and Morality album, or be a worthy successor to Joy Division's 'Atmosphere'.

So Stridulum II is a jamabalaya of mostly 80s influences channeled through a mildly gothic filter, yet Zola Jesus still possesses a unique identity that fits well in these times. Despite the doom and gloom of Stridulum II, it is still a very likeable and enjoyable album that probably needs a dozen listens to really hit home. With more variety, a hint of stronger production and generally a bit more oomph, Zola Jesus could have the staying power and longevity, rather than being forgotten in a heartbeat.

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