Zola Jesus is the brainchild of Nika Roza Danilova, while Stridulum II is effectively the UK reissue of her recent US Stridulum EP with three additional tracks added to make it a full album. A stunning blend of gothic electronica that overwhelms the senses, this album is darkly gritty with a tendency towards a huge anthemic sound. Listening to ‘Stridulum’ almost feels like you’re being taken to a plain of existence where nothing exists apart from the listener and the music.
Opening with lead single, ‘The Night’, Danilova quickly sets about showcasing what to expect; she has a knack of crafting material which sound part of a whole whilst retaining a distinctive flavour. Listen to any track and you’ll get both glimmers of originality alongside a knowing sense of familiarity. Throughout the album she sounds a lot like Florence (without her Machine) but dispenses with the pounding drums and hollering, replacing them with pianos and something far more introspective. From the opening bars of ‘Night’ to the amazing crescendoes of the title track and onto the unashamed eighties paean of ‘Sea Talk’, the depth and complexity we get to experience is unmatched; yet despite this each and every track offers a degree of restraint. While obviously harking back to the eighties, this isn’t an eighties tapped by the recent synth-lead revival of that decade.
Compared to their previous output, Stridulum II has obviously received a polish in production resulting in something that is far smoother and benefits hugely as a result. By taking away the rougher edges the band have opened themselves up to far wider exposure and the limitations that no longer exist allow for more experimentation in their sound. As reinventions go, Zola Jesus have managed where many others before have failed: retaining what made them worth listening to in the first place, whilst cutting away the ties that held them down and creating an experience that transcends all expectations.