Zola Jesus’ “Soak”

Hmmm … I figured Zola Jesus’ haunting single “Soak” would be a fitting follow-up to yesterday’s post on Anna Calvi’s “Swimming Pool.” Both tend to complement each other tonally. They’re equally intense, passionate, and experimental in approach. And both women are powerful vocalists, hinting at darker shades with gothic undertones.

Zola Jesus, who’s real name is Nika Roza Danilova, skews quite a bit darker. Take last year’s “Soak,” for example. It’s about death, as perceived by a serial killer’s immediate victim. Now, I actually didn’t realize that, until I checked out an interview with her on this particular single.

Not what I was expecting … at all. But if you’re striving for darkness, I suppose there’s really no point in going halfway. So I have to admire that level of commitment. Curiously, despite the subject matter, Danilova actually does clarify that there’s a message of acceptance, empowerment and hope from the victim’s point of view. You can sort that one out for yourself. But I see where she’s coming from.

Musically, “Soak” isn’t the grim soundtrack for slaughter one might expect. Rather, it’s a rumbling percussive dirge of intense and haunting beauty, steeped in industrial rhythms and painted with classic gothic flourishes. It possesses an otherworldly feel, almost occult in its aural aspirations, channeling degrees of primal mysticism to spawn its sparse, determined composition. And Danilova’s deep sultry vocals are cavernous in her choral chants, like a hypnotic incantation, summoning lyrical intensity and strength.

Perhaps, that’s ultimately where the hope resides in this metaphorically macabre tale. At least, I’d like to think so. I mean, I have no problem with the darkness. But I’d prefer not to view “Soak” as a wholly nihilistic affair, even if the optimism is deeply embedded in an undercurrent of artistic subjectivity.

Here’s Zola Jesus’ “Soak” for your enjoyment. Of course, the real question is would you feel differently, had I not prefaced Danilova’s lyrical intent. Ponder that one, as you work your way through week one of the new year.

“Soak” from the 2017 album “Okovi”.