Zola Jesus 

Like an artificial heart that hasn’t fully kicked in yet, Zola Jesus has delivered more promise than power since its 2009 debut, The Spoils. All the elements are installed: frictionless synths, pulsing ambience, and ghostly vocals that penetrate the flesh. But Zola Jesus’ frontwoman and architect, singer/multi-instrumentalist Nika Roza Danilova, still strains to seamlessly interface with her own creation. On her latest full-length, Conatus, she’s made another bold step toward fully realizing her cyborg-like, post-goth opera—by leaning more heavily on the cold and mechanical.

Conatus’ third track, “Vessel,” is its de facto statement of intent. With Danilova’s Siouxsie Sioux-like wail poking holes through digitized ice, the song carves hard angles and sharp edges into slabs of glacial ambience. “Skin” is a piano-drenched threnody telegraphed from Atlantis; “Collapse,” with its refrain of “It hurts to let you in,” drones on a melancholy frequency that’s wholly Danilova’s. 

The skyward spirals and throaty declamations of “Lick The Palm Of The Burning Handshake,” though, sound a little too much like Florence + The Machine’s evil twin. But when Danilova shines, she blinds: “Avalanche” overcomes her knack for disconnection by hooking her voice to a skeletal melody and some skittering syncopation. Slashed by shards and shadows, Conatus is Zola Jesus’ best album to date. But it also hints that Danilova has a stronger, stranger, more soulful one left in her. 

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