There is no musical element simultaneously more versatile yet wholly defining as the human voice. An artist can change every element of their sound, but as long as they keep singing, their identity remains constant; Björk sounds like Björk, Thom Yorke sounds like Thom Yorke, Bob Dylan sounds like Bob Dylan (well, sometimes). A little bit of background: Zola Jesus is the nom de guerre of Nika Roza Danilova, a singer who began releasing dense industrial-gothic avant-pop a few years ago. On her early records, Danilova layered her voice under murk and grime, as if she (literally) feared the spotlight. Then, with the release of her Stridulum EP, she showed her cards—revealing a voice that can be referred to non-hyperbolically as breathtaking. “Vessel” sees Zola Jesus further taking up the mantle as pop singer, singing over a biomechanical beat that sounds like the auditory equivalent of an HR Giger painting. Even the cover art feels more open, with only a white shroud covering her face (rather than the slimy black goo of Stridulum). This is the sound of an artist fulling realizing her vocal potential, and in so doing making an imprint that will forever define her sound.
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