For the last year or so, there has been a renaissance in lo-fi music, across genre lines. Whether making surf pop (Best Coast, Dum Dum Girls), chillwave (Toro y Moi, Neon Indian) or witch house (Salem, Mater Suspiria Vision), there is a premium on the bedroom recorded, four-track tape sound.
Nika Roza Danilova is a Wisconsin-born singer-songwriter who performs as Zola Jesus. Last year, she released two such bedroom albums, New Amsterdam and The Spoils, and garnered acclaim from the usual suspects. And for good reason – buried beneath fuzz, static and gothic drone is a talented songwriter with some serious pipes. The music is dark and mournful with melodies that remind me of Bat for Lashes.
Danilova cites Throbbing Gristle among her influences, and on her first two albums, it shows. She’s not afraid to push things into industrial, dissonant territory. There is an ambient uneasiness throughout, and with her music’s goth feel, it works. And while key elements of this style continue on this year’s Stridulum, she’s taken major creative steps forward, breaking out of the lo-fi box with style.
Throughout Stridulum (and the double EP of the same name), the focus is on Daniloa’s operatic vocals. Minor-key synthesizers waft over strings and piano melodies, stark and simple drums drone in the background, but everything operates in service of song. The album opens, appropriately, with “Night,” a mournful love song that is tinged with loss.
“Trust Me” and “I Can’t Stand” tread on similar sonic and lyrical ground, with strong results. The 808-like rhythm on “Sea Talk” harks back to earlier material, while the emphasis on vocal melody is definitely in line with the rest of the album; the “Poltergeist”-themed clip is yet another fantastic piece of video art.
With Stridulum, Zola Jesus is ready to burst from the bedroom to the big time. The prolific songwriter is back with yet another EP next month (Valusia). She opens for The XX and Warpaint at a sold-out 9:30 Club show on Tuesday, and then she’ll be touring Europe through November. And next time she rolls through town, she’ll be headlining.