Zola Jesus – Stridulum II (Pod/Inertia)


This is music for darkened rooms, post-midnight.

Stridulum II rarely breaks tempo, and songs begin to bleed into one – but it’s the bewitching vocals of Nika Danilova that make the album special. Her voice is unquestionably the star of the show, falling somewhere between Siouxsie Sioux and Florence Welch. She is a melancholic siren. Haunted and haunting. I can imagine Danilova belting these songs out in a massive, crumbling old theatre or church. It’s that kind of gothic melodrama.

Songs are relatively short and spare, beginning and ending with very little fanfare. They just sort of happen – but feel remarkably complete and meaningful when they do. What they lack in complexity and detail they more than make up for in atmosphere and emotion, which oozes out of every minute. The tribal beats and ghostly synths are all part of the spell the album puts you under, but the dynamics and drama are all in Danilova’s delivery.

What is compelling about the production is the wall of sound behind the voice and how epic it feels. It is minimal and monolithic at the same time, as if the studio it was recorded in was a giant cave. There is some type of hollow presence that permeates each track. A widescreen nothingness. The sort of uneasy big emptiness you find in the best of early Joy Division or The Cure. Hard to describe, but unmistakably there.

And within all the darkness, there is a sense of romance. The album seems largely to be about love. Perhaps love lost or unrequited, but there is optimism there. Danilova can be sad and longing, but her outlook is never bleak.

Stridulum II is a miniature opera, made for the witching hour. Gloomy, sexy and intoxicating.


About Author

Heath Killen is a graphic designer, illustrator and blogger currently based in Newcastle, Australia. You can hire him. He works for money or wine.

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