Album Review: Arkhon – Zola Jesus

Nika Roza Danilova, aka Zola Jesus, recently released her sixth album, Arkhon, which finds the artist leaving the controlled environment of her auteur’s ivory tower and entering the world of collaboration. This shift was the result of Danilova’s increasing awareness of the isolative influence of pervasive technology, i.e., Big Tech.

According to Danilova, “There’s so much exploitation and subjugation that is keeping humanity from collaborating and living in a more holistic way. [The industry] is siloing musicians through this auteurism where we’re all supposed to be these individual islands of artistic genius. So we’re not being encouraged to collaborate.”

The collaboration came through working with producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O)))) and drummer Matt Chamberlain (Fiona Apple, Bob Dylan).

“Lost” opens the album, traveling on dark, eerie tones topped by Zola Jesus’ mysterious voice. Buzzing synths infuse the tune with imminence as the primal rhythm gives the song a tribal cadence. “Undertow” continues the shadowy sonic theme. Sections of the song are reminiscent of “Everybody Wants to Rule The World,” Tears For Fears’ song about the thirst for supremacy.

“Faded from a resolution / You’ll never know / No, you’ll never know it (take all you know) / Distance forming a delusion / You’ll never know / No, you’ll never know it.”

The chugging, muscular flow of “Sewn,” definitely a standout track, rolls forth like a primeval, war-like chant full of murky thrumming energy. Chamberlain’s rumbling, potent drums imbue the rhythm with palpable pulsations rife with reckless dynamism.

The centerpiece of the album, “Desire” features Zola’s troubled, aching timbres atop a somber piano. As her voice elevates, wailing out “desire,” unbridled passion reveals itself. Like a weighing scale, Zola probes the negative and positive sides of human wants.

The final track, “Do That Anymore,” begins on drifting, dirge-like coloration, and then mousses up to a smoke-filled electro-pop melody as Zola’s vocals infuse the lyrics with dreamscape textures. Woeful lyrics, echoing the loss of autonomy, diverge from the feel of the music, which shimmers with graceful layers of sound.

Talking about Arkhon, Zola Jesus shared, “The record sounds how it does because of these changes that I’ve made to how I relate to the industry, and what my goals, my rewards, my motivations are. It really has nothing to do with who reviews the record, what festivals I get, or awards. That stuff is all just carrots that they dangle in order to continue to exploit and extract your creativity for brands and corporations.”

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