In a recent interview from the Berlin Music Festival, Nika Rosa told Right-Click Radio that “humans are afraid of change, we’re like creatures of habit, like cows”. This may sound like the grossest of exaggerations but the point being made was that we humans tend to plod along, doing the same, safe things repeatedly – likes cows grazing in a field. Safe and repetitive just isn’t how Rosa rolls, under the guise of Zola Jesus this 21 year old Wisconsin girl has been experimenting with rock and pop since 2006 and with every release (four LPs so far) there is a slight shift in style as well as some well-needed refinements.
Stridulum II may just be a snapshot of Zola Jesus but it is by far the clearest picture we have got of this enigmatic project so far, and it paints a curiously ominous scene. Stridulum II owes as much to industrial electro as it does to 80’s power ballads but don’t let that put you off, it’s all very palatable. Simple melodies are built with synthy-strings and hollow drumming, a lo-fi base to Nika’s swooning and operatic voice. Her vocal is hazy, deep and sensual, ‘Trust Me’, though at times she’s like marauding siren preying on the souls of the weak, the album opener ‘Night’ being a perfect example of this. ‘Sea Talk’ is by far the stand-out track, it’s a modern-day gothic anthem -sweeping synths, evocative singing and a darkly romantic melody – it’s tremendous piece of work.
The album as a whole would be a tremendous piece of work only for the fact that it is not an album, it’s an EP with two extra songs bolted on to it. Fair enough, if you don’t know the previously released US EP of the same name you probably won’t be able to pick out the fillers but that is all there are – they may work off the same template but don’t leave an indelible impression and thusly dilute the possessed, claustrophobic and suffocating atmosphere just a wee bit. Let’s put this down to record company pressure.
Zola Jesus is a powerful artist with a cavernous appetite for trailing new ground and Stridulum II is the perfect juncture to join her on that journey. The steps from the lo-fi-noise dawdlings to her current gothic-pop sound may have disgruntled some of Rosa’s fans but for most it’s a rewarding move.