If someone told us at the beginning of the year that Zola Jesus would be responsible for one of the year’s best pop albums, we’d have probably spat in your face and slapped you square in the mouth. Luckily for all parties involved, no one did actually tell us that, mainly because no one expected it. With Taiga, Nika Roza Danilova has emerged from that gothwave shadow, and how.
Danilova has openly stated that she wanted her new record to be cleaner and more direct. It’s certainly both of those things from the off, given how the title track trembles with dub-pop as that unique voice echoes around it. Ending with dramatic fanfare, it’s the perfect herald for Dangerous Days, undoubtedly her most pop offering since Sea Talk.
It’s interesting to bring up some of her older records at this point. As the record progresses – with Dust opening as some sort of alt-pop spin on a Motown ballad – it’s very clear that whatever darkness started to lift between Conatus and Stridulum has almost fully been exorcised, at least sonically. Perhaps it’s confidence, but a year ago you wouldn’t expect the epic rise-and-fall pop workout that is Go (Blank Sea), or the enormous chorus of Lawless, which feels like it could both fill a stadium and soundtrack a mainstream ad. Quite a progression from the desperately haunting Tower.
Truth be told, Zola Jesus feels like a more complete artist for it. While a surprising evolution, Taiga ends up feeling so comfortable that the change never jars – sure, Danilova is still wrestling with abstract concepts, though this time they’re very much bathed in light and sharply focused. Call it the second coming of Zola Jesus, then, because it certainly positions her as one of the most exciting – and unexpected – pop stars of 2014.