Is it just me or is weird, dark-yet-danceable pop suddenly everywhere? For better or for worse, it’s not 2010 anymore and Katy Perry’s candy-coated brand of pop no longer reigns supreme. Thanks to artists such as Lorde, Robyn, and newcomer Tove Lo, it is finally possible to be a female musician who sells well and doesn’t leave a trail of glitter wherever she goes. Naturally, it seemed as though now was the time for Zola Jesus, the Russian-American songwriter known for her experimental and goth-influenced alt-pop, to absolutely explode. But if the timing is right, then the songwriting is off for Taiga, her inaccessible and dreary fifth studio album.
That being said, timing is not everything and Taiga is not without its highlights. “Hunger” and lead single “Dangerous Days” are two early standouts, powered by a pulsing beat and Zola Jesus’ massive voice. If anything carries the album, it’s her exceptional and unwavering vocal power. Her voice rises above each track with unparalleled clarity and strength, cutting deep even as it soars. She exhibits remarkable control, switching effortlessly between restrained melodies and a Kate Bush-esque wail – the latter on full display in “Long Way Down.” While she may not emerge unscathed from the flawed songwriting or production, Zola Jesus manages to salvage at least part of Taiga with her rare singing talent.
The other elements of the album sound almost unfinished. Taiga fails to ride on its opening momentum, floundering in drawn-out atmospheric instrumentals by the second half. The ambient bass lines don’t quite mesh with the deep house beats, sending the album stumbling over its own production. The final track, the decent and relatively uplifting “It’s Not Over” comes across as a last-ditch effort to finish the album on a triumphant note. But taken as a whole, the album is a surprising disappointment from an unusually prolific artist.
Yes, it’s a rough outing for Zola Jesus, but Taiga is hardly a suitable reason to dismiss her altogether. Perhaps the album sounds unfinished because she isn’t finished exploring the sound and vision that drive it. With any luck, Taiga will go down in her discography as a transitional album, providing the artistic foundation for a more fully realized follow-up. And if five full-length albums and four EPs in the last six years are any indication of her crazy productivity, chances are we won’t have to wait long.