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Album Review: Zola Jesus – Conatus

By on Tuesday, 27th September 2011 at 2:00 pm

Since her debut LP release in 2009, Zola Jesus has been carving herself a niche in the electro-indie populous. Mixing an often bass-heavy electro-synth beat with soaring operatic vocals, Zola Jesus (aka Nikita Danilova) manages to stun and entrance you with her mesmerising vocal range. Having received opera training from the age of 7, Zola Jesus’ voice soars and can reach levels that teenage X-Factor wannabes can only dream of.

Her latest release, ‘Conatus’, starts from the point we were left stranded last year, waiting for another release. Opening on the Aphex Twin-styled ‘Swords’, you’re taken to a world of clicks and bleeps and deep bass stabs whilst Zola Jesus’ voice echoes majestically in the background. As the album flows into ‘Avalanche’, her ominous voice proves just how powerful it can be with a sound so big it could fill arenas – and yet it comes from such a small person.

‘Ixode’ should be considered for an upcoming single release as it is one of the best tracks on the 40 minute album. It’s infectious and the sound swells and builds into something dream-like and beautiful that is pushed ever onward by the electro-indie melody behind it. Despite it not having a ‘get up and dance’ feel, the atmosphere this song creates is sensational. ‘Seekir’ is in fact the first single from ‘Conatus’ and rightly so as it seems to have been wrenched through a wormhole from the ’80s. With its synth-pop beat and strangely haunting vocals, there’s something entertaining and also intriguing about Zola Jesus’ one notable attempt at a ‘pop’ song.

As the album progresses toward its climax, the emotion and passion with which Zola Jesus sings is astounding. During ‘Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake’, her voice is fantastic without comparison. The range she reaches and the raw power you can feel roaring over the music transforms electronic melodies into something much deeper and impressive. As the song continues it transforms into a mixture of different vocal layers which intertwine into a personal vocal harmony that sucks you into Zola Jesus’ fantasy world.

Unfortunately, ‘Conatus’ isn’t the 11-track odyssey it appears to be, once the end is in sight. ‘Skin’ is a slow emotional piano-led opus that focuses on the sombre and softer side of Zola Jesus’ repertoire, which would be a slightly underwhelming but just closer to the LP. However, the actual final song is a blend of big-sounding ’90s trance synth and heavenly warbling which has an interesting and unique sound but leaves you with a sense of disappointment that the big finish never came. Perhaps that’s the fourth album?


‘Conatus’ is available now from Sacred Bones Records.


Interview: Zola Jesus at Field Day

By on Tuesday, 23rd August 2011 at 12:00 pm

Prior to her haunting set at this year’s Field Day, I spoke to Nika Danilova, aka Zola Jesus, about her upcoming album, current tour and more.

You’re only 22, is it weird that you’re performing your music all across the world?
I think I’m starting to lose time. I get nervous that time’s slipping from me so the earlier I get started the better. This is not even the beginning.

You were performing opera at a young age, do you think that training as influenced your music as a whole?
I think it definitely changed the way I sing, which I can’t take back now. Maybe in a sense I think everything has indirectly influenced my music because of who I am and where I came from.

You say where you came from affects your music?
It made me a different person.

Your new album – ‘Conatus’ – is coming out next month, what can we expect?
A lot of different things. Of course it’s still going to sound like ‘Stridulum’ in a sense because it’s me, but I’ve really tried to do almost the opposite of ‘Stridulum’. It’s like an inversion of my style before, just because I felt like I needed to challenge what I was doing and making in order to grow as an artist and as a musician. You can expect some changes in the sonic quality, the production, the instruments and everything.

What were the main influences of the new album?
Probably, again indirectly, things like 808 State and Aphex Twin I’ve been listening to a lot of, but you probably can’t notice that on the record. I was more influenced by doing things that I didn’t have the skill to do, so I had to learn new things and had to kind of push through a lot of setbacks.

Quite an emotional album then?
It was very emotional. I think lyrically it’s different because it’s much more personal and the record, in a way, documents my process of trying to be better and trying to grow as a human being and as a performer and of course you’re going to do through a lot of catharsis doing that.

A word that comes up a lot when describing Zola Jesus is “dark”; do you think that’s justified?
It’s a little bit of a dichotomy because I do think about things in a way that’s more misanthropic or more nihilistic, but as a person I try to work through those things in a way that’s optimistic. It’s like having a mental disorder and trying to overcome it, which is exactly what it is. So I try to be positive about it and who I am as a person is the opposite of dark – extremely open and communicative.

When you’re performing on stage you almost look like you’re in a trance, would you say there’s a different ‘you’ on stage as to off it?
The me on stage is basically me trying to not throw up while I’m on stage. The more I can forget there’s people in front of me the better off I am and so in doing that I need to completely turn off and do something that is way more intrinsic and kind of close my eyes. Maybe that’s what makes it in one way more theatrical or visual is because of movement, I’m a very rhythmic person. At the same time I think it’s important to give people something that is very raw and very emotional – not just stand up there and play your instrument because that’s your chance to present that record in its live form. For me my music is very physical.

As well as playing Field Day today, you played Big Chill yesterday. How was that?
It was good, people were very chill, which I guess I should have expected more. People seemed to enjoy it but it’s a weird atmosphere playing at three o’clock in the daytime – very sunny, very warm and everyone’s having a picnic in front of you. But it was great.

You played Big Chill yesterday and you’re at Field Day today, how would you compare UK festivals to those in the U.S.?
I haven’t played that many American festivals actually, [Field Day] reminds me a lot of Pitchfork in Chicago. People here are more dressed up, I’ve noticed that they’re a lot fancier. Big Chill was the first British festival I’ve ever played, so if people are like that they’re definitely more chilled out and more relaxed.

After this run of festivals and shows has finished, what do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Just touring. There’s going to be a lot of bouncing back between the US and Europe, I think I’ll be back here three more times before the year is over. Basically playing shows, doing promo and hustling.

Zola Jesus’ upcoming album ‘Conatus’ is due for release on the 26th of September. Many thanks to Kate, Natasha and Rachel for helping us sort this interview.


Field Day 2011: Coco’s Roundup (Part 1)

By on Thursday, 18th August 2011 at 2:00 pm

Coming the day right after Underage Festival, Field Day is a similar festival, but for adults. I experienced far too many clashes at Field Day; as a result, I missed nearly 70% of the acts that I intended to see. Funnily enough, I also bumped into some sets by bands I’ve never heard of before.

The first act I saw were S.C.U.M. I really dig what I’ve heard from them so far, and so I was anticipating their performance. Since they were playing one of the earliest slots, I had time to stay around while they were setting up. The whole performance was really good, and they’ve attracted a whole full tent of audience, even being one of the earliest acts to go on stage. That’s how good they were. I believe they played some songs from their forthcoming debut album ‘Again Into Eyes’, and I do like the sound of them. After seeing S.C.U.M, I met up with my friends and had some food, getting ready for the busy afternoon/ night that followed. It started raining at about midday, and everyone was really worried. Turns out it was only a shower; no big deal, eh? My friends and I then went to the Village Mentality stage, wanting to see Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the stage was already too packed (actually rammed) to be able to see anything. We stayed for a while and left cause we could barely hear anything from where we were stood. It was that packed.

We then moved to the Lock Tavern stage. Spector were playing, and I didn’t know them at all. All I saw were a few men in suits playing some music with a retro touch. A little bonus was that they kept telling jokes between songs. Some of them were quite awkward, but I appreciated the effort as it made the atmosphere in the tent really good. People kept cheering and despite I didn’t know the band, I still had fun. Later on, I saw About Group (pictured at the top of this post) at the same stage, but bit later. I arrived late and only caught the last few songs. It was more like an Alexis Taylor DJ set than an About Group set as I imagined. Although it wasn’t really like what I expected, the remaining set was still fun. It was chilled and everyone seemed to have a good time, great!

I wandered a bit and bumped into Electrelane’s performance. I have never heard of them prior to the performance, so it was fresh. I was attracted by their electronic sound and I quite liked it. Out of curiosity, I went to a stage where I saw people dancing like crazy. After having checked my timetable, I confirmed it was Benga and Youngman playing. Something really funny happened: Benga and Youngman asked the audience to “get up”, and then all the ladies went on their male friends’ shoulders. That caused the security to panic, and the security signalled people to get off from their friends’ shoulders, because they were worried someone would get hurt. Of course, the crowd didn’t listen. So guess what happened next? Benga and Youngman actually asked the crowd to “get down”; miraculously, the crowd followed. I found that kind of funny, but probably the security wouldn’t agree with me.

I kept wandering around, yes, I did. Then somehow I met up with my friends again at Zola Jesus’ set. With much attention from the media lately, I was pretty curious about their performance. Nika put a lot of effort in her part and I could sense that. But to be fair, I am not really a fan of their music. As a result, I didn’t stay there for long and went to the Laneway Festival stage for Jamie Woon instead. I’ve always found Jamie Woon’s style quite similar to James Blake’s. So I suppose it’s fair to say that Jamie Woon prepared the crowd for the upcoming set from James Blake. I found it peculiar that Jamie got a bigger cheer from the crowd when he played ‘Night Air’ than when he played ‘Lady Luck’. I genuinely thought the latter would get a bigger response. The crowd sang along to ‘Lady Luck’, and the song also put dancing boots on everyone’s feet.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Coco’s experience at Field Day 2011, including coverage of James Blake and Wild Beasts.


Field Day 2011: Luke’s Roundup

By on Wednesday, 17th August 2011 at 2:00 pm

Photos by Tom Curtis

Although on paper Field Day looks like an East London hipster fest one-dayer that lacks passion and soul it is, in fact, to the contrary. Of course Victoria Park has attracted a number of visitors who are more interested in what they look like than the bands they’re here for, but there is also an air of respect for the artists playing in the on/off Saturday afternoon sun.

This respect is boosted by the very British feel of the festival. Not only is there a full brass band playing to anyone who cares to listen but there are also egg and spoon races for prizes. Intended irony or not, the simple and twee feel to Field Day brought out the best in people.

Opening the Main Stage to an ever-growing number of early(ish) risers is Willy Mason with his own brand of folk. Keeping the tempo calm and the talking to a minimum, Mason provides a powerful set of favourites from his two albums. A warm welcome is given to 2007’s ‘Save Myself’ but set closer ‘Oxygen’ is what the crowd are here for. Despite being Mason’s first single, it’s still the favourite of Field Day.

The mood is kept high but the music takes on a form of its own with Sun Ra Arkestra making their way onto Main Stage. Dressed in brightly coloured robes and armed with violins, tablas, saxophones and a multitude of other instruments, Sun Ra Arkestra transform Victoria Park into a vast outdoor jazz club. Credited with being pioneers in the world of experimental jazz, the large crowd which has gathered appear to either ‘get it’ or definitely not ‘get it’. As the free sounds of nine veterans ring throughout the Main Stage area, it’s unfortunate to see people who leave mid-way through what is undoubtedly a special band.

Following on from the experience of the Arkestra, the Irish rockers Villagers play to possibly the largest crowd of the day so far. Conor J. O’Brien’s haunting Dublin accent soars over Victoria Park and draws everyone in. But the mistress of the powerful vocals is giving Field Day a remarkable performance on the Bloggers Delight stage.

Zola Jesus‘ performance attracts thousands of people to the Bloggers Delight stage, many of which are forced to stand outside the tent. Playing with a full band, Zola Jesus (aka Nika Danilova) provides an experience like no other at Field Day. The emotive vocal display and dynamic delivery shake the tent throughout. At only 22, Zola Jesus has amassed a cult-like following of fans in the UK who are standing in awe of her singing ability. ‘I Can’t Stand’ and ‘Stridulum’ garner the appreciation she deserves, but set closer ‘Vessel’ (from her upcoming album) leaves her audience in a state of awe and dizziness at what they just saw. She might be a small Wisconsin girl offstage, but once she grabs that microphone she’s bigger than ever.

Back at Main Stage are possibly one of the hottest properties playing this festival – Warpaint. Taking to the stage in the early evening the four women from LA play a mesmerising set to thousands of onlookers. Opening on ‘Warpaint’, the band look as appreciative as they do shocked at how many fans they have in East London. Dedicating the majority of their set to 2010’s ‘The Fool’, the inclusion of 2009’s ‘Billie Holiday’ is a treat for long-time fans. As expected, though, breakthrough single ‘Undertow’ sees the first true singalong of the set. Despite playing to one of the biggest crowds of the day, their set is fairly short but closer ‘Elephants’ is as haunting as it is majestic.

Over on the Laneway Festival stage, The Horrors are closing the day. Huge throngs of people are persistently pushing their way into what seems like a sardine tin to try and get a glimpse of the Southend shoegazers. Ploughing through an 11-song set, the band are hindered by volume problems. Faris Badwan’s vocals are too low in the mix to be heard distinctively and just blend into the background. Despite this flaw, the packed tent scream along to every word to the likes of ‘Scarlet Fields’, ‘Endless Blue’ and ‘Mirror’s Image’. Set closer ‘Moving Further Away’ has Field Day dancing into the night as Victoria Park is left unhip for another year. But with the success of this year, 2012 can only be bigger and better.


MP3 of the Day #357: Zola Jesus

By on Thursday, 30th June 2011 at 10:00 am

Russian American singer/songwriter Nika Roza Danilova, better known by her stage name Zola Jesus, has a new album, ‘Conatus’, out in September. To get people excited about the upcoming release, she’s made available this preview track, ‘Vessels’, for early listening and downloading. Enjoy it and grab it for your very own below.


MP3 of the Day #207: Zola Jesus

By on Tuesday, 6th July 2010 at 10:00 am

This is a track I’ve had sat in my inbox for some time – it’s from Zola Jesus and pretty darned good, and I’m not really sure why I haven’t posted it sooner – I think I just wanted to keep it all to myself. Mysterious, dark, layered, creepy and disturbing I sort of love the Kate Bush / Florence and the Machine vibe Zola has got going on. Download, listen, watch and enjoy:

MP3: Zola Jesus – Night



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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

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