The Center Spoke
In these lands a success story is a rare occurrence. The public is unwilling to embrace someone who flirts with the edge of music, who populates their atmospheric electronic work with screaming synthesizers and punishing bass rattles. Over the years, genres like Dubstep may have gone a long way to popularizing the more aggressive ends of the musical spectrum, but even then the genre’s focus on danceability hinders its chances at clearing the gap. Luckily for the world, we have Zola Jesus who, alongside contemporaries like No Age and HEALTH, has managed to successfully cross over into the modern lexicon of music enthusiasts and on Okovi she drags her fans kicking and screaming to the darker side of music.
Zola Jesus already has a history of pushing the boundaries of her fans; one of the greatest examples is her Meow The Jewels remix of “Blockbuster Night Part 1,” “PAWFLUFFER NIGHT,” which is a strangely atmospheric ear assault rather unlike anything one would expect on an album of cat remixes of a beloved hip-hop record. The latest record by Zola Jesus, Okovi takes advantage of these traits but balances them out with huge choruses and a startlingly epic sense of scale to her songs. The opening track, “Doma” is a completely atmospheric piece that incorporates choral vocals, immediately showing influences from her peers Blanck Mass and Tim Hecker. The influences only become more evident as the album progresses; tracks like “Exhumed,” “Siphon” and “Remains” all feature the driving drum tracks one could expect on a record from Cold Cave, HEALTH, or even Drab Majesty. Luckily these influences do not come off as cheap tricks; instead they work together to create an extremely cohesive experience that takes into account the traits of various talented musicians.
Perhaps the most interesting trait of the record is its obsession with stringed instruments, tracks like “Half Life” and “Witness” are almost solely scored by a gorgeous string group while Zola Jesus sings over them in a voice that flits between achingly fragile and soul-shakingly powerful. These tracks go a long way to push the thesis of empowerment within the context of the album. They also serve as brief moments of reflection within the fury and chaos of her more typically aggressive style. Her understanding of how to treat a listening audience in terms of track listing is admirable and clearly shows a large amount of effort on her part.
It seems unfair to call Okovi a great starting point for those looking to find more ambitiously produced music because entry points are almost always discarded. Instead, this is the type of album that fills a similar gap to Arca’s self titled album. It is a record that encompasses and distills the greatest traits of its influences, serving as a union station to a sprawling world of genres that point from HEALTH to Blanck Mass to modern pop. It is rare that an album so ambitious is so easy to listen to, and Zola Jesus makes it look so easy it’s frightening.