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Zola Jesus: Conatus

Sacred Bones

Nika Danilova (known to most as Zola Jesus) is a reclusive, covertly sexy 22-year-old. With her fair skin and Dickensian wardrobe, she looks as though she escaped from a 19th-century gothic romance novel. Yet Danilova's albums are the work of a one-woman operatic powerhouse, not a shy eccentric. Released in 2010, her Stridulum II achieved stratospheric levels of grandeur; the singer's voice was big enough to reverberate through cannons. Conatus is just as cinematic and visceral. The album is bare-boned, with a bleeding sense of urgency, communicated by funereal synths, but it has legs. "In Your Nature" and "Seekir" build to a bulldozing symphonic crescendo. Danilova, for her part, sings about the fear and longing of early adulthood. These are dark themes to be sure, but Danilova conveys them in a voice so alien and angelic she might as well be from some benevolent otherworld. (4 out of 5 stars)