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Review: Zola Jesus, ‘Conatus’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: October 04, 2011
Label: Sacred Bones

The bleakness of Nika Rosa Danilova’s one-girl goth group was born from the no-fi Midwestern oppression of her Madison, Wisconsin bedroom. All those long winters being the witchy nerd in a Big Ten college town. But last year the singer peeled out for Los Angeles. It was easy to wonder: How would our black-clad heroine fare in that baking sun? Would she start singing about weed and the beach?

While she did bleach her hair white-blonde, Danilova’s dark side is still intact on Conatus, her third full-length. What is new for this L.A.-based Jesus is her pop propulsion — she’s not just making songs for herself anymore. They’re being created for live performance, for an audience, for fans who may enjoy dancing in lacy cloaks. While her sound is still dominated by typical darkwave elements — doomy synths and the pishy patter of minimal drum machines — the rest is unexpectedly warm, illuminated by her indomitable voice.

Danilova is now truly singing rather than coolly intoning (most goths start from the Ian Curtis “sad robot” model), and she’s moving toward something like the ecstatic cooing of Cocteau Twins‘ Elizabeth Fraser — her most obvious influence. But the whole spooky spectacle is still very much her own, still bewitching, still ample reason to get cloaked up. Another victory for California girls.