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Zola Jesus

Stridulum

(Sacred Bones; US: 9 Mar 2010; UK: Import)

If you ask me, ghost stories just aren’t that scary. An intangible threat just doesn’t feel like enough to warrant any sort of deep reaction. There needs to be teeth and bone and blood. What Zola Jesus do so well, and what makes their sound so arresting, is they create a very physical haunt with their songs. Synths and drum machines grind and roil away, while Nika Roza Danilova’s towering voices fights through the gauze like a banshee on fire. At least until now. On Stridulum, Danilova’s voice is clear as day and right up front in the mix. The demon shuffle of the music is still stomping away behind her, but these songs are all her voice, and are all the more striking for it. What makes the EP so damn good from start to finish—aside from the simmering build of the verses, and the towering size of the choruses—is how it belies its sinister sound at every step. These are songs that reach out, not to grab you in their clutches, but to pull you back from the edge. “I can’t stand to see you this way”, Danilova belts out on “I Can’t Stand”, and while she sounds heartbroken, she is also braced to spring into action. She is not going to let the darkness win. And her voice cuts through it at every moment here with staggering power. There’s still something very haunting about Stridulum, but its success comes in Danilova breaking away from that, pushing back at the demons rather than conspiring with them.

Rating:

Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.


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Zola Jesus - Stridulum
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