Zola Jesus makes a welcome return to form on Okovi.Sacred Bones, 2017
7.7 / 10
After a solid start (somewhat of an understatement), Zola Jesus, Nika Roza Danilova, finally had a slip-up with her last album, Taiga. She decided to take her moody, transformative music into a more pop-friendly direction. However, it wasn’t very “friendly.” In fact, no one wanted to be friends with it, even though lead single, “Dangerous Days”, was perfect remix bait for Soundcloud musicians. But hey, it was an experiment, and not every experiment is going to yield successful results. For the follow-up Okovi, Zola Jesus buries those pop ambitions deep in a grave. But only after murdering them in the most violent way. Yes, she’s back to her dark, goth side. It’s a perfect fit Sacred Bones, the label responsible for most of Zola Jesus’s previous releases1.
After an ambient opening track, “Doma”, Okovi, takes off with the eerie single, “Exhumed”. The song opens with a frightful yet furious string arrangement. Then, Danilova’s towering vocals come into the fray. Her opening lyrics: “Bury the tongue between the teeth/ Open the jaw and sink in deep.” Talk about a sinister homecoming. However, Danilova’s dark return to form isn’t a response to Taiga‘s failures. Rather, it comes from her personal experiences. “While writing the record, I endured people very close to me trying to die, and others trying desperately not to,” she says.
She wrote “Siphon”, in particular, about a friend, who attempted suicide twice. Here, she conveys her desire for her friend to stay with her rather than to take his life. She sings, “Won’t let you bleed out/ Can’t let you bleed out,” in desperate urgency. The song punctuates this with stirring noisy distortion and banging drums. It sounds huge, but most importantly, it sounds powerful. Although it does so with less booming impact, the somber “Witness” is no less powerful. Its strings rip into the soul like razor wire as Danilova’s voice drops an anvil of emotion. She sings, “If you could see from the outside/ To be a witness/ To those deep, deep wounds/ To resist it/ To keep that knife from you.”
Obviously, what makes Okovi a particularly strong Zola Jesus record is that it comes from a personal place. Although Taiga came from one as well, its motivation came from ambitious desires. Danilova wanted more than just to be a dark pop songstress. She wanted to be an artist similar to Rihanna. But after listening to Okovi, you might pose a question to her. Why settle for that when there’s so much more to your music than fluff and filler?
1. Zola Jesus released Taiga via Mute.