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Zola Jesus, "The Spoils"

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2009 has certainly been a great year for this young banshee from Wisconsin. Zola Jesus has put out numerous releases this year, each featuring high quality songwriting and production. To have so many releases of such a high quality is truly impressive, and this collection continues that hot streak.


Sacred Bones

Zola Jesus - The Spoils

I first came across Zola Jesus' song Rester on the XXperiments compilation released by Die Stasi. Aside from being the sort of messy lo-fi straight-to tape electro-noise-pop I love, there was this Voice. One with so much soul behind it I almost cried. I was totally smitten by this new artist. I quickly went and scoured the blogsphere for her already out-of-print and hard-to-get singles. As soon as I had the spare cash I ordered her "Soeur Sewer/Odessa" 7" and the now out of print New Amsterdam CDR from Sacred Bones (both stellar, and the former included on this CD edition). And then I was sadly dissapointed when she dropped off the North East summer tour with Dead Luke and Wet Hair, who played my friend's basement.

As aforementioned, this CD includes two of the singles from earlier this year, making any more illicit downloading less necessary. Besides, the songs "Dog" and "Odessa" are still stand out tracks, even if they are oldies from her catalog. Also, we get to easily follow the developement of the Zola Jesus sound. The earlier singles are dirtier, sexier, more intense. I blame the change from home-taped recording and the addition of a new drum machine for this, though Zola has kept as much of the rough hewn vocalizing intact in her sound. Her voice, really, is the soul and core of the music. It's undeniable. I love the juxtaposition of this trained operatic voice set slightly out of time and key with overdubbed harmonies and gritty electronics. On The Spoils she uses more reverb and single vocal tracks. I've never observed the loss of warmth and charm when switching to digital recording from analogue more apparently than here.

I can't help but be so nit-pickily critical of this CD. The impact that Zola Jesus' music had on my for the first few months of this year was intense. Her earlier singles and mini-LP pretty much owned my MP3 player for four or five months. I would still put this in my top 3 albums of 2009, easily, but The Spoils didn't completely hold up to my expectation, and I can't stop running over in my head, again and again, why. It's blusier and less "experimental" and the songs are less about texture and more about songcraft. More aften than not, the arrangements are simply voice, piano, and percussion. There's none of that amateur voice tracking I loved on the singles, and the songs don't drift off into rhythmic sound collage either.

The album is still intense. It goes into this Americana Gothic folklore that I usually think of as corny, but is sung so hauntingly and passionately that I can't resist. "Devil Take You, Clay Bodies" and the disc opener, "Six Feet (From My Baby)," merely hint at the dark underbelly of the music. When I first heard this disc in mid July, it wasn't the right season for the music, but now in late autumn, with the mist and frost holding tight to bare trees and fence rows under the steely grey skies of December in New England, I'm getting back into it.

Personally, so much music I listen to needs a specific time and place, and these dismal days are perfect for Zola Jesus and The Spoils.

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 December 2009 15:07  


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