OKOVI

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - MUSIC REVIEWS - Zola Je­sus { Sa­cred BONES Records }

One year ago, as the United States was mov­ing to­ward a Don­ald Trump pres­i­dency, Nika Roza Danilova, a.k.a. Zola Je­sus, re­turned to the woods of Wis­con­sin where she grew up, built a cabin, and be­gan work­ing on what would be­come Okovi—her fifth and strong­est al­bum thus far. It’s full of

the op­er­atic vo­cals, pul­sat­ing synths and drum ma­chines, and soar­ing string ar­range­ments that first gained her pop­u­lar­ity with 2011’s Cona­tus.

In the press re­lease for the al­bum, Danilova de­clares, “This al­bum is a deeply per­sonal snap­shot of loss, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and a sym­pa­thy for the chains that keep us grounded to the un­for­giv­ing laws of na­ture.” As one of the more ex­per­i­men­tal synth-pop artists, Danilova pow­er­fully uses her voice to soar above—and at times drop into— each track’s in­stru­men­ta­tion. On Okovi, her sense of ur­gency is sim­ply un­par­al­leled. When she sings, “To be a wit­ness/ To those deep deep wounds” over a gor­geous string ar­range­ment on “Wit­ness,” she sounds a call to look within—and then deep be­yond.

For most of Okovi, the world out­side is one of un­pre­dictabil­ity and un­cer­tainty.

The open­ing sin­gle, “Ex­humed,” be­gins with a fast-paced string ar­range­ment that is looped over and over again. Asym­met­ric drum-ma­chine beats fill the holes in the sound­scape un­til the bass line en­ters and sends the song off its course. Near the end of the song, Danilova pushes her vo­cals up so many reg­is­ters that they feel like they are go­ing to es­cape the bounds of the song. On

Al­though it’s not an ex­plic­itly po­lit­i­cal al­bum like Aus­tra’s Fu­ture Pol­i­tics, Okovi mir­rors the strife of ex­ist­ing as a mi­nor­ity in the United States in 2017.

the next song “Soak,” Danilova pushes the cin­e­matic feel of her mu­sic into the realm of the de­mented, per­form­ing from the per­spec­tive of a woman who is fac­ing death at the hands of a se­rial killer. Un­like the pro­tag­o­nist in Lana Del Rey’s “Se­rial Killer,” in which she uses so­ciopa­thy as a metaphor for love, Danilova’s nar­ra­tor is a sym­bol of the pow­er­less who are seek­ing agency in a mo­ment of great suf­fer­ing. As loud and ag­gres­sive drum clashes and key­board slams reroute the song, the nar­ra­tor strug­gles to tell the story on her terms—try­ing to re­gain con­trol ev­ery time the song slows down.

Al­though it’s not an ex­plic­itly po­lit­i­cal al­bum like Aus­tra’s Fu­ture Pol­i­tics, Okovi mir­rors the strife of ex­ist­ing as a mi­nor­ity in the United States in 2017. Of course, Danilova is cre­at­ing from the po­si­tion of be­ing a white fe­male artist, which makes her choice to name the al­bum Okovi (af­ter the Slavic word for “shack­les” or “chains”) a loaded one, given that the word evokes chat­tel slav­ery. For Danilova, “okovi” is short­hand for the clash be­tween the dark­ness and light that has been a theme for her en­tire discog­ra­phy. This con­tes­ta­tion most vis­cer­ally plays out on “Veka,” the stand­out track on the al­bum. Amid blurry key­board parts and spo­ken bits, Danilova’s vo­cals pow­er­fully roar into the song, beck­on­ing, “When the words be­come you/ When the story builds you in/ Who will find you then?” With an emo­tion­ally well-timed drop around the three­minute mark, the song ex­plodes into a brazen synth-pop dance track.

At the end of the record, words go miss­ing en­tirely as an in­stru­men­tal of keys, bass, and strings closes out the al­bum. The shack­les are left as an open ques­tion, as some­thing that can only be ad­dressed through re­flec­tion on how one fits into a big­ger pic­ture. And as dark as Okovi gets, there al­ways re­mains a glim­mer of hope that we can do some­thing else, in­clud­ing us­ing (our) white priv­i­lege to point to the dark­ness lurk­ing out­side. RAT­ING:

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