Okovi – Zola Jesus – Review

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By Jack

A homecoming can do strange things to you. Returning to the place you, long ago, grew up in, can leave you contented. It can make you a little sad, mournful.

It’s a strange amalgamation of feeling, with contradiction at it’s heart; warm feelings and good memories, rendered cold and inert through the lens of time. Okovi is that sensation in spades; the pain of “Remember when?“.

If Nika Roza Danilova is in anyway hampered in this endeavour, it is that her voice struggles to convey softness. Her operatic timbre booms through Okovi like a sea-gail buffeting the sails.

This album cannot be described as ‘hushed’, ‘sighing’, ‘soothing’ or any of the common descriptives for what is essentially a break-up album, though the break-up is with one’s former self. That the album avoids these hallmarks may stunt its commercial reach, but it is also what gives Okovi its cerebral, witchy power.

Nika wrote the album whilst building a house in the woods in her home state of Wisconsin, close to her childhood tree-house. It is the story of Nika, a successful indie musician, meeting Nika, a young girl peering from the parapet of a tree-fort, wide-eyed.

It is a retrospective on the time that separates these two selves, and all the events between them; growing up, losing friends, seeing the fallibility of parents and loved ones. It is an intensely personal experience, but one we will all at some point see for ourselves.

Okovi is almost drumless, percussion arriving only in bursts, with rhythm left to gorgeously arranged cellos and strings. These bleed a distinct rawness that is rarely captured. ‘Witness’ is some of the most heart-rending orchestration heard this year.

It speaks to the album’s complexity that many have interpreted Okovi as an album for and about others. To an extent this is true, but to these ears this is an inward-looking album, a collection of thoughts sometimes touching and other times maudlin focused on the many selves one inhabits over the course of a lifetime.

From moments of high drama like the filmic ‘Exhumed’ to the dream-pop iterations on ‘Siphon’ and stormy house on ‘Veka’, Okovi doesn’t cover much ground in it’s sound, focusing on a big-scale goth-pop sound.

Conceptually however, the album covers many of Nika’s obsessions, and explores them vividly and memorably. Okovi is a stark, arresting collection of confessional pop, and one of the year’s best.

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