Conatus is the third full album from Nika Rosa Danilova, a.k.a Zola Jesus. The opera trained, Wisconsin born singer broke away from blog releases and bedroom recordings in 2010 with her second album 'Stridulum II'. She combines orchestral strings with synthesised basslines, processed beats with piercing vocals, all of which are overshadowed by her distinct, iconic appearance.
Opening track 'Swords' gives you a one minute glimpse of what you've let yourself in for with Conatus, dark pads fluctuate in and out of focus as space like effects flicker delicately around the moaning vocals. Second track 'Avalanche' offers a real taste of Nika Rosa Danilova's opera trained voice, which, although in a completely different context and instrumental surrounding, is often reminiscent of Florence Welch of 'Florence + The Machine'. Looped vocals echo over synthesised string parts and rumbling toms. The simple chord progression and machine based beats of 'Hikikomori' result in a sound which isn't dissimilar from the likes of The XX's minimalist combination of pop and electronica.
One of the most upbeat offerings 'Seekir' opens with overlapping vocals and detuned, wavering synths until an arpeggiated chord progression combines with the religious thumping of a tom and high hat to unite the dreary vocals and dissonant synthesizers. However as the album progresses it becomes clear that a lack of variation is present within Conatus, the different high hat/tom patterns all blend into one and the initially enchanting vocals start to become a chore to listen to.
Final track 'Collapse' layers deep pads and synthesisers alongside the melancholic vocals culminating in a dramatic soundscape as high strings join the instrumentation in the final minute. A satisfying way to end an accomplished album in which the vocals are darkly angelic and the instrumentation is perfectly arranged, creating a gloomy but intense mood. However, listening to the album in one go is an arduous task, the similarity of the songs cause them to gradually merge into one another, much like a boring meeting or lesson in which the only memorable parts are the first and last few minutes.
So although Zola Jesus offers nothing groundbreaking or different, which, like that of 'Lykke Li' or 'Tune Yards' appears to be the approach she was going for, Conatus is dramatic, dark and gloomy which, in small doses, provides an enjoyable listen.