Album Review: Zola Jesus – Conatus


Released 26th September 2011

From the very first second this album grabs your attention with the short and sweet, not to mention amazing, instrumental Swords. From that point on this album simply had me hooked. Conatus is an album that has a very crisp and clean production throughout. It has angular sounds giving it a very industrial feel in places. Tracks such as Vessel and Shivers are both fantastic examples of this and instantly grabbed my attention from the very first listen.

Zola Jesus has a vocal which easily allows her to create songs that can raise a slight chill on the back of your neck. Whilst production feels clean still she manages to create such haunting tracks using her vocal and a clever choice of instrumentation. The first full track on the album is Avalanche. It demonstrates every element of feeling and sound that appears throughout the album. There are vocal notes here that make my ears prick up with joy and anticipation, whilst the background vocal is so haunting it makes me feel slightly wistful and haunted. There is a slight problem I do have with many of the songs though. Whilst I enjoy each and every track, and they certainly make me feel something for each of them, there are points at which I can’t understand what the lyrics are. Part of the problem is because Zola Jesus has a habit of singing sounds rather than actual words, as far as I can tell anyway, the voice is an instrument just like any other so it is a lovely thing to listen to. Ixode is a very good example of me not having a clue if the lyrics are lyrics or just sounds. It doesn’t make me enjoy it any less, but for someone who wants to know every single word when it comes to lyrics she does make it a little difficult. Collapse is a track where I can only pick out bits of the lyrics and this is certainly due to the singing style. It’s such a shame though as I get the feeling this is quite a dark and emotional track from the bits that I can pick up on (“it hurts me”) and the overall sombre tone of the song.

Lick The Palm Of The Burning Hand seems to seek out something from the listener, be it attention or emotion or understanding. It’s one of the longest tracks on the album and is stunningly haunting without ever feeling heavy or depressing. I love the piano part right from the start, it makes the track stand out. There is still the electronic sounds mixed in with it but the vocal is clear and the piano is clear and it makes the track sound really bright and fresh, even though actually it’s not a light track in any way. It feels like it’s full of brighter colours, rather than the more musty, murkey colours felt in a lot of the other tracks. It is still dark and dank in parts but it feels more, well more uplifting I suppose.

Overall this is an album that requires some attention, it’s not a background album, or a mood enhancer. There is a lot of depth to this mainly dark album. The shades of light and dark mixed with the interjections of industrial sharp sounds create an album full of interest, with the interest being drawn upon just when it really needs it. I wouldn’t consider the album to be a must have but it’s certainly gained a well deserved space on my almost full hard drive and might even find its way into my CD collection too.

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