Despite the darkness curled inside reality, there is power, too, in surrendering to what can’t be pinned down, to the wild unfurling of the world in all its unforeseeable motion. That letting go is the crux of Arkhon, which marks a new way of moving and making for Zola Jesus.
There is a way a voice can cut through the fascia of reality, cleaving through habit into the raw nerve of experience. Nika Roza Danilova, the singer, songwriter, and producer who since 2009 has released music as Zola Jesus, wields a voice that does that. When you hear it, it is like you are being summoned to a place that’s already wrapped inside you but obscured from conscious experience. This place has been buried because it tends to hold pain, but it’s also a gift, because once it’s opened, once you’re inside of it, it can show you the truth. Zola Jesus’s new album, Arkhon, finds new ways of loosing this submerged, stalled pain. On previous albums, Danilova had largely played the role of auteur, meticulously crafting every aspect of Zola Jesus’s sound and look. This time, she realized that her habitual need for control was sealing her out of her art. Arkhon sees Zola Jesus’s first collaboration with producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth, Mandy soundtrack, Candyman soundtrack) and with drummer and percussionist Matt Chamberlain, whose prior work appears on albums by Fiona Apple, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie. Arkhon runs the spectrum from songs whose weight lies in their bare simplicity, like “Desire,” an elegiac piano composition about the end of a relationship that was recorded acoustically in a single take, to towering, groove-oriented tracks like “The Fall” and the tight, interlocking percussion and samples of a Slovenian folk choir in “Lost,” which propel narratives of collective despair and mutual comfort in kind. Through these turns, Arkhon reveals itself as an album whose power derives from abandon. Both its turmoils and its pleasures take root in the body, letting individual consciousness dissolve into the thick of the beat.