With her March EP, Stridulum, Nika Roza Danilova, better known to the blogosphere as Zola Jesus, made a confident move away from the lo-fi, doom-ridden, blown-out sounds of her previous studio output and toward a midway point between opera, goth rock and New Order synth dirges. Valusia, her second EP this year, has the same sound but a different purpose: This four-song stopgap is meant to ensure newcomers that she’s playing for keeps. There’s no retreating behind the fuzz again. Zola Jesus is out front for good, basically cornering the market on big, sweeping synth pop.
On the excellent Valusia, Zola Jesus hooked up with a producer for the first time. Chris Coady, who has produced Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio, helms the boards on “Poor Animal,” giving it an even bigger-sounding sheen than the self-produced tracks on Stridulum. “Poor Animal” is as close to dance music as Zola Jesus can probably ever get. With its modest increase in tempo, it imagines an opera inside a three-day old rave. Coady’s bigger sound seemingly inspired the re-recorded version of “Sea Talk” — which originally appeared on Tsar Bomba — as well: There’s those distant, marching drums, the post-punk synths climbing toward the sun and Danilova’s voice floating above it all.
Like Stridulum, the greatest strength of Valusia is that it gives us just enough to want to spend more time in Zola Jesus’ world, but not enough to subsist on. But if you were to put the two EPs together on one LP, it would form one of the year’s best albums. A full-length of material in this vein is due for a 2011 release, and if it’s as great as Valusia and Stridulum, Zola Jesus should break through in a big way.