The Taiga Sheds Its Stripes
Electronic ambient music doesn’t get much more pop than Zola Jesus, the nom de stage of Nika Roza Danilova. Since her 2009 debut, The Spoils, she has mixed the aforementioned elements with goth, classical and industrial meanderings. On each album, she has become more focused and less experimental. Her latest LP, Taiga, may be her most accessible release to date, and it will be up to her fans to determine if that’s a good or bad thing.
The album opens with the title track, beginning with synths and choral chanting under Danilova’s strong, deep and polished vocals. The song ends with an assault of brass, introducing a sinister element to the album. On “Dangerous Days,” Taiga starts to take shape. Her inflections and melody choices are pure pop even as the music remains gently schizophrenic. On “Hunger,” the orchestration veers to the left, though not sharply. The stacatto keyboard hits are matched by a wild (but low-volume) beat, but the whole song is soon smoothed out by Danilova’s smooth delivery.
If there is one standout track, it would be “Go.” The build-up is innocent with a hint of madness, but the chorus is infectious, designed to be stuck in your head for good. “Hollow” starts with the big, loud sounds that are peppered throughout Taiga, but again it’s the vocals that bring it back to earth.
If there’s a complaint about Taiga it’s that it’s too polished. Danilova comes across as an American Idol runner-up, with her strong-but-flat voice (flat as in paint, not flat as in off-key). The words have meaning, but the vocals do not. It’s as if she spent so much energy getting the recording right that she neglected to record the energy. Fans will likely yearn for the bad girl found in some of the earlier recordings, but if she wishes to achieve commercial success, then Zola Jesus is headed in the right direction.