It's not every day that Merrill, Wis., turns out a goth-industrial-electro music artist who earns a significant fan base throughout Europe and the United States. But that's just what Zola Jesus has done. She logged time in Madison, too. During her time as a student at UW, she began the musical recording path that propelled her to international recognition.
Conatus is her third studio album in three years and another showcase for the emotional depth of her songwriting. So much of today's electronic music follows a tired formula built around thump-thump drum machine beats. Zola Jesus succeeds in revealing the genre's artistic side.
"Skin" is a deeply personal and introspective piano ballad that contrasts delicate keyboard with sonically abstract vocals. The imperceptible distinction between strings and voice in the backing drones reinforces the idea of instruments expressing what people can't.
"Vessel"'s steady percussion adds an earnest feel to somber piano chords. The track holds to a traditional verse-chorus-verse song structure, with waves of string deepening the mood of the chorus.
Conatus wasn't made for the dance floor. The album is proof that electro-industrial sounds don't have to be relegated to DJ booths and clubs bathed in strobe light. It succeeds not by making listeners move, but by making them feel.