A stripped back approach sees Nika Rosa Danilova forge a new way forward out of the darkness on sixth album
Ever since she started releasing music as Zola Jesus in 2009 Nika Rosa Danilova has been a compelling idiosyncratic presence in alt-pop. Sometimes in the more experimental margins and sometimes drifting into more mainstream consciousness, she’s always made diverse and emotionally rich music and her journey has been long and creatively fulfilling.
Arkhon is the sixth Zola Jesus album and it finds the artist exploring new ways of moulding, sharpening and refining a long established aesthetic. This time she isn’t just working on her own but has ceded a degree of control to various like minded and complementary collaborators like producer Randall Dunn, famous for his work with pioneering experimentalists Sunn O))) and drummer Matt Chamberlain who has played with people like Fiona Apple and David Bowie. The album is a subtly different Zola Jesus with more focus on her powerful classically trained voice and a recognition that stripping things back slightly might be the best way to push things forward.
There’s a deceptive simplicity to a song like Into The Wild that sounds both intimate and cavernous. It’s a song that highlights the feeling of abandonment and letting yourself go that permeates the record. Embracing darkness but not letting it fatally wound you. Perhaps some of this feeling of release comes from the period of writers’ block that Danilova suffered in the 5 years between this and her previous album. Exploring new ways of working was the spark to ignite a rebirth for Zola Jesus.
There is heaviness present here though despite the frequent moments of glacial beauty that dominate. Most striking is the brutal industrial clatter of the thrilling Sewn while Do That Anymore offers a beguiling, woozy climax that leaves you feeling ever so slightly pleasingly discombobulated.
The album title translates to power in Ancient Greek and in many ways it’s an album that explores power both in oneself and in people and society around us. There’s a massive amount of power and feeling in the music but perhaps even more of an impact is in the feeling of expressionism and freedom that it represents. In forcing herself to look at who she is as an artist and explore new ways of creating Zola Jesus has firmly taken back her power and forged a new way forward out of the darkness.