Music Reviews

Zola Jesus Taiga

(Mute Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10
Zola Jesus' music has always been colossal. With each subsequent album, she combines nature and machine with her vocals and expansive electronic sounds to reach higher and higher peaks. Now, with Taiga, Nika Roza Danilova is trying to entice a larger audience to follow her up the mountain.
If Conatus was her breakthrough, then Taiga should be the record to make Zola Jesus an indie star. Many of the songs on this album have a cinematic quality, like Zola Jesus in widescreen. The pieces are tighter, more ambitious and groovier than any record she has done before. The industrial effects of her previous work have vanished, replaced by electronic drums and regal horns, with vocals capable of flooring a forest.
The first single, Dangerous Days, definitely creates a catchier sound. The beat moves like a railroad train, chugging along through edgy verses and a belting chorus. Still, Zola Jesus isn't making a Katy Perry song here. Her personality and creativity are fully on display, just more focused than ever before. Go (Blank Sea) is another poppy number, with pounding drums and haunting, swirling synths that keep spinning in the background throughout the song. 
Her vocals are clearer than ever too. On past works, she threw pronunciation and delivery at angles that made her voice exclusively an instrument, rather than a storyteller. Now, you can understand every lyric. 
Ego feels like the album's mission statement. Over a water drop beat, she sings, "I used to think humility was everything/The only way through to all sounds/I fought against the ego." She's cut loose from this struggle, fully embracing the ego that any artist needs to push themselves outside of their box. This doesn't mean that she's lowballing her delivery, though. Nail lets Zola Jesus show off her voice by limiting the instruments to heavy piano chords and foggy, electronic drums. For half of the track, she's out there singing with no music at all, and it's beautiful.
Zola Jesus said she was listening to marching bands while working on Taiga. It may seem like a weird decision on paper, but she makes it work. Hunger recontextualizes upbeat brass and classical strings into a rave. Hollow selectively uses horn blasts and rolling drums for bursts of energy in the chorus. I would love to see a school use one of these two tracks at a football rally. It would get every student on his or her feet.
Taiga is a more mainstream album than people may be used to from Zola Jesus. But that is not a bad thing. This is not the sound of someone changing herself for success. Instead, Zola Jesus is crooking her finger, beckoning all of us to join her on the path up the mountain. With music like this, there will be many people willing to make the climb.