The latest offering from Zola Jesus is almost brilliant. Okovi is less alternative pop than it is anti-pop. Nika Roza Danilova could easily perform songs akin to Marina And The Diamonds, Lana Del Ray or even Jessie J, such are the popstar qualities of her voice so her decision to take a different route is reason enough to savour the delights of Okovi.
When it works, like on the lead single ‘Exhumed’, it is sublime. That tune is laden with menace and self-examination. Even before the lyrics begin, you are drawn in and held captive by the haunting, threatening strings and vocalisations. Similarly, the chilling refrain of ‘Wiseblood’ will linger with you. In the hands of a lesser artist it would be a throwaway line but Danilova delivers it over a minimal backing track and it is heart wrenching. ‘Veka’ is discomforting in a David Cronenberg fashion and builds into a ‘Cloudbusting’ vibe.
Even on the tunes that don’t quite hit, there is a sense of failed experimentation that garner’s merit in the Beckettian “Fail again, fail better” sense. Tracks like ‘Witness’ and ‘Half Life’ sound unfinished, as do a handful of other tracks. They work in building the atmosphere of the album but are unsatisfying in isolation.
Recent single 'Soak' is written through the lens of serial killer’s victim; clinging to life and about to be dumped in the water. “I was thinking about this crucial moment inside the victim’s mind, when she knows she’s going to die. She thinks back at her life and the futility of the decisions she made, when in the end her life would be cut short against her will”, Zola explains. That specific moment gains universal applicability in those four minutes.
Any music which pushes boundaries in this fashion is by its nature inconsistent and, in this case, frustrating. Okovi is so close to brilliance that you can feel it. It has more potential than product, but it nonetheless demands to be heard. ‘Exhumed’ and ‘Wiseblood’ are among the best songs you will hear in 2017 and it would be criminal to overlook them.