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Zola Jesus – “Taiga” Review

Dark gets a shaft of light
Zola Jesus
Zola Jesus

Zola has made several albums and we have come to love her haunting doom vocal crossed with dramatic symphonic electronica. For “Taiga” in many ways things haven’t changed but I feel like the album itself takes things away from the industrial and pushes the electronic percussive edges harder, faster and more mainstream than Zola has driven them to before.

Opening with the title track, we have a jungle-esque drum beat kicking in half way over the dramatic bass and brass arrangements. Zola’s vocals are heavily layered in the background but for this album her voice is far more untreated in the main vocal. It’s like she’s unmasked some confidence barrier. It highlights her strengths and her vocal weaknesses. “Dangerous Days” is the track that showcases all these new twists in her music. It’s practically pop with an unusual voice. There’s a lot of catchy synth work and a strong verse/chorus cross over. It also sounds far happier than most of her previous work and this may take some getting used to for some! “Dust” pulls back to a sparse early 90’s pop track. It’s slow pulse and reliance on space and vocals makes it a sultry number that’s sexiness comes from its deep tones. Funnily enough my favourite track from the album “Hunger” is the most bombastic and industrial of the lot. It’s drums thump and bang over the taut brass stabs. Zola’s voice is ragged and unhinged as she bellows “I’ve got the hunger in my vein, I won’t surrender until it takes me away”. It’s a hark back to the older albums with a dirtier sound and it works slightly better.

“Go (Blank Sea)” is the other favourite track from the album. It’s clever use of reverb, which is present throughout the album, creates extra atmosphere here and the chorus is very catchy and easy to shout along with. “Ego” sees some lovely string arrangements begin to join the foray as the percussion-less drama of brass and strings unfold over some strong vocals. It feels a bitter song but also one that’s weary as it collapses beautifully in your ears towards the end. That allows the massive drums of “Lawless” really blast an impact. It’s a huge track with some epic synth work that sounds like a space odyssey over the top of an 80’s pop rival. “Nail” is a daring vocal heavy track. There’s barely any other instrumentation for the opening ninety seconds before minimal piano and warped drums join for the chorus. The vocal layer is sublime though for the closing quarter.

“Long Way Down” is a real hark back to older tracks with bells, bass lines and synth warbles behind everything. I love the chorus and how fluid everything feels. It’s a neon classical touch that makes Zola’s voice have a honey sheen on it. “Hollow” is almost club like in many ways. It’s rumbling drums and smashing sticks really give you a tribal vibe and the bass heavy album shines here. It’s catchy too. “It’s Not Over” is a lighter finale that has an ethereal synth collection that gradually transforms into an electronica Gaga number over the chorus of the track.

Taiga represents an artist that is spreading her wings. The main concept is still there and Zola pops a few songs right in for her core audience. It does push out into pop and club music at times, albeit in her own vibe and style. A complete U-turn from the string album she last released, this is an acquired taste as always but it is a great album for the fans.

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