Madison has a history of musicians outside the mainstream who develop notoriety both across the U.S. and abroad, but maintain a relatively low profile in their home base. Nika Roza Danilova is creating quite a buzz in the music blogosphere with her musical alias/one-woman band, Zola Jesus, including a stack of "best of 2008" lists and a recent mention by comics writer/king of all media Warren Ellis.
Her music began sneaking out on vinyl in 2008, with a single and compilation LP track on Ohio's Die Stasi label. Another 7-inch and CD-R followed on New York underground label Sacred Bones, along with an EP on New Jersey indie Troubleman Unlimited. This past summer, Sacred Bones released the group's first official album, The Spoils.
The band currently features synthesizer work by Shane Verwey and Nick Turco for live shows, but, says Danilova: "The Spoils was all me. Recorded it by myself in a makeshift studio in my spare bedroom."
The disc throws the listener right into a world where dread dominates over clanking beats. Disturbing yet captivating, her home-recorded work weaves itself into one's subconscious in secret ways.
Those who grew up in the '80s loving the grimy sounds of the Birthday Party and Joy Division, or the later decade's hard industrial beats, will probably feel instantly at home.
The sound is dominated by Danilova's emotive, dramatic singing style -- even when the vocals are somewhat buried in the mix -- and very cinematic. It's the sort of music that should be accompanying grainy black and white footage flashing by on a screen; the images may be indistinct, but one is left with a very unsettled soul after the experience.
A take on a visual match for Zola Jesus' music can be viewed in a video for the track "Clay Bodies," directed by Jacqueline Castel, who has also directed clips for Sacred Bones artists Blank Dogs and Gary War.
"My label and I talked about it and thought it would be a good idea," says Danilova. "We all met in Detroit and shot the beginning of the video there in a bunch of abandoned buildings, then the end of the video was finished up at Loew's Theatre in Jersey City, and random spots around Brooklyn."
For a sample of The Spoils by Zola Jesus, listen to album opener "Six Feet (From My Baby)" in the related downloads at right, or visit the band's MySpace page. (Sacred Bones 2009)