When an artist returns back to a music label where they first began, in some ways you expect a return to the past but Zola Jesus’ “Okavi” is an interesting mix of her older more industrial noise goth pop and the slicker, but still dark toned more cleaner tracks of late. What makes “Okavi” fascinating is that it blends the two well real to create a nice middle ground and a perfect starting place for Zola Jesus fans to get onboard.
The lush vocal smudges of “Doma” are dreamlike and pillowy and initially misguide you from the harshness of “Exhumed” which has dramatic string stabs, screaming backing vocals and harsh vibrating bass lines you feel rather than feel. However, this track, which breaks into a hellish nightmare of percussion and noise in the middle to superb effect is almost like a second rising that allows the rest of the album to flow like an ascent back up to the fluffy cosy moments of the opening track. It’s very much a journey album.
“Soak” sets you off with a classic Zola track. Thick, heavy drums smash through the chorus, strong synths and strings push the chords through and it let’s Jesus’ distinctive voice to the talking. If you haven’t heard her deep but compelling voice before, then it is certainly a talking point. She can do so much with so little because of the power and presence of it – and this track showcases that. “Ash to Bone” is a haunting transitional track which I think deserves to be longer because its atmosphere, particularly in the second half, is magically dark. Instead it paves way for ballad “Witness” which slowly grows from its simple four chord string arrangement into a quietly moving piece. Placing the strings louder than the vocals is an interesting choice, but as they swell it makes the track really breathe.
“Siphon” is a real industrial beat track. Slow, powerful, clunky and mechanical – its beauty lies in its giant power steps. It’s a track that will take a few listens to appreciate but it became a favourite over time. “Veka” is a quieter track that focuses on sparse atmosphere and hollow synths that sound like they are being played in an echo chamber. It transforms into a gothic dance track by the end but I wish the pay off lasted longer – purely because the songs that good. “Wiseblood” is another unsung non-single that is tightly woven in a more tribal like track with funky percussion and some excellent vocal layering. After the nearly holy “NMO” interlude, the fast paced gothic dance of “Remains” is utterly fantastic as the organ arpeggios flow over echoing synths and big vocals. All my minor complaints on the album revolve around pay off – but this track hits the pay off perfectly and is a joy to have on repeat. It also sets you up for the lush celestial pop of “Half-Life” that brings you very much full circle back to the beginning. I can hear echoes of the opening track, I can feel the rebirth of sorts going on musically – and it feels like a shimmering ending to a sonic story of coming through the shit and surviving out the other side.
“Okavi” is nothing dramatically new for Zola Jesus, but its a wonderfully put together album that shows off all the best parts of her various stages of her music to date. It blends them seamlessly and effortlessly and gives the most rounded account of her music to date.
Recommended Track : Soak