Zola Jesus

Versions

Sacred Bones

Aug 27, 2013 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


When bringing together two such eclectic, often esoteric artists as Australian avant-garde musician J.G. Thirlwell and Wisconsin's Russian-American experimental rock singer Nika Roza Danilova, aka Zola Jesus, there is an inherent fear that the end product could turn out to be messy, over-thought, and far too obtuse for its own good. Fortunately though, the creative minds of Thirlwell and Danilova have time and again demonstrated the capacity for enough good ideas to avoid such a pitfall.

Versions is a collection of songs from Danilova's career to date, made over with Thirlwell's string arrangements, an idea that originated when they played a collaborative show together last year. Around half of the songs here are taken from 2011's near-perfect Conatus, and whilst the druggy synths that characterised the likes of "Avalanche" and "Seekir" have been dropped, Versions' versions lose none of their emotional impact. Similarly, "Sea Talk" is stripped of the downbeat raucousness of its original Tsar Bomba EP version and re-imagined as something uplifting and beautiful.

There's a uniformity to the string quartet arrangements that is accented with enough subtle variations to keep the listener interested throughout (although this is helped by the album's brevity, clocking in as it does at under 37 minutes). For the most part Thirlwell keeps the songs on the verge of cracking; on "Fall Back" and "Run Me Out," they seem on the way to falling apart. On a number of tracks at the album's back end, this borderline emotional breakdown swells, with "In Your Nature" shaking off the sadness of both its original form and the first half of this album to genuinely give hope.

As ever, Danilova's vocal is the real standout. On her previous albums, where the soundscapes have been dense, the music has always complemented her voice's tortured resonance. Here, with Thirlwell's strings and skittish raindrop percussion, that voice is allowed freedom to explore the quieter moments and is afforded the center stage it's always deserved. (www.zolajesus.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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