Even after she started making the blog rounds last year with the lower-than-lo-fi album The Spoils — it sounded like it was recorded remotely from a cave post-apocalypse — it always seemed like Zola Jesus (known to the straight world as Nika Roza Danilova) was just a trip to a real studio away from delivering a musical knockout. Then the Madison, Wis., resident did just that, cutting Stridulum, an EP that bears more austere majesty and brutal beauty than most full-length albums do. Stridulum is what an EP should be: It inspires total devotion but, becuase it’s a scant 20 minutes, is never entirely satisfying.
Zola Jesus has a hell of a voice — she was trained from a very young age as an opera singer in Northern Wisconsin — but the increased fidelity does her great favors on Stridulum, as she’s moved out of her cave and into the spotlight. She’s able to mix the go-for-it bluster of Lydia Lunch with the ethereality of Kate Bush, while matching the sheer force of opera and providing a female answer to the cerebrally fraught quaver of Ian Curtis. In other words, hers is a rare instrument, and it’s further bolstered by the newfound love of ‘80s vintage synth washes. Her work has always been vaguely industrial, but the move to more mechanical means lends the material another layer of magnificence.
Given that Stridulum is only six tracks, plucking out a single one for special recognition becomes a fool’s errand. From the darkly menacing but emotionally needing “Night,” to the totemic and ever-shifting “I Can’t Stand,” to the Spartan “Run Me Out” and the glowering title track, this is an EP that delivers all the goods. Beyond being more than excellent, Stridulum just helped Zola Jesus’ coming 2011 full-length leap to the top of the list for most-anticipated releases for next year.