Zola Jesus: The Dark Philosopher


Quick! Name the type of music that is akin to having a penchant for all things dark while working in steel factory making soda cans? Confused? It’s industrial goth pop. Still confused? Well, me too actually. Aside from the worst and most cerebral joke I’ve probably ever told, it’s also – with this most recent album anyway – the musical stylings of one Nika Rosa Danilova aka Zola Jesus. The genre of music is almost as complicated as Jesus is herself:

Adele sits her bedroom reading Thoreau while her kid takes a nap. Lady Gaga enters with Dostoevsky and they compare. Suddenly, they are run over by a flat bed truck carrying a nail bed and being driven by Trent Reznor. He was distracted because he was reading Nietzsche. If you pick up the pieces from the accident and reassemble them, you might get something resembling Zola Jesus. Adele’s voice, Lady Gaga’s sensibilities, and Trent Reznor’s music. What a show.

Only 25, Danilova is already on her fifth full-length album. Not surprisingly, it is named for a rich, luscious Russian forest. (The country of her ancestors). Yes, Taiga is an excellent expansion and creatively rich look at the darker, moodier side of pop music. Admittedly, I didn’t know who Danilova was until I saw the trailer for the Hailee Steinfeld-Douglas Booth version of Romeo & Juliet. (Her song Skin was in the trailer and was probably the best thing about the entire movie). And since then, I haven’t been able to get of music’s moody, metaphysical and metaphorical Madonna.

The first single off Taiga is Dangerous Days and the video for it was also filmed in a rainforest. A rainforest in Washington State however, not Russia. (The Hoh Rainforest to be specific). Both the video and song are on the minimalistic side; a drum kick essentially underlays the whole track while juxtaposed of scenes with Danilova standing in or near water, then rainforest, before she is mind-melded to resemble what Samara would look like if she was a manifestation of a computer virus. Zola Jesus’ voice is so powerful and transfixing that one does not need anything else.

Indeed, at her live show on Saturday, I found myself in a trance for much of the night. And I wasn’t even aware of it. It was just so mesmerizing. Danilova just standing there in front of the mic, behind her some of sort of white sculpture that if worn, would make Zola Jesus look like Elsa. Now that would have been a sight. Anywho, The show was transfixing, complete with the occasionally head-banging, rock-and-roll freakout courtesy of the main attraction. At other times it was more subtle, simply using her voice to carry us away. One time, when the small crowd got overly noisy, she sang a cappella, without a microphone, to get them to shut up and listen. Well it worked. And brave. I have seen very few artists do that and get away with it. This was also the first time in recent memory that I witnessed the trombone being used as a full-fledged instrument on almost every song. There were no guitars, no basses. Drums, trombone, and a mixer. This is what makes Zola Jesus unique and well worth the effort to see.

When I say Zola, you say Jesus! Zola! Jesus! Zola Jesus! That’s kind of how I feel about this performance; I want to proclaim it’s  awesomeness and her awesomeness from the rooftops. Zola! Jesus! She also covers herself in chocolate!

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Zola Jesus’ fifth album – Taiga – was released in October 2014.

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