This collaboration between Nika Roza Danilova, aka Zola Jesus and a string quartet, The Mivos Quartet, with arrangements by J.G. Thirlwell, aka Foetus, takes off as if KT Tunstall has decided to sing her own soaring songs over the Clint Mansell-composed, Kronos Quartet-performed score to Requiem For A Dream. Where Zola Jesus has previously performed a type of operatic soul music across clattering electronica here she sounds so perfectly at home because there’s always been an element of torch-song singer to her sound; to her act. And with Versions she shows another version of both herself, the artist and her work, the songs.
New song Fall Back is a triumph, one of the aforementioned KT Tunstall-meets-Kronos moments. But there songs from the Zola Jesus back catalogue also, the opener is a slowed version of Conatus’ Avalanche. And Hikikomori, also from that album, benefits from the new clothes; this new sense of drama suits the songs – Sea Talk, for instance, given a sharper focus, but smoother edges. Ultimately smarter than how it appeared on the Valusia EP.
And so it is for the versions on Versions – lifting Zola Jesus up and away from the nearly novelty value of some of the stroppy synth-goth ideals of the earlier work, showing there’s something in the songs outside and away from the clang and shine of their first recordings. Which then shows there’s something more to Zola Jesus as an artist, just when you were ready to have her sit near Grimes in your collection you realise she can occupy a similar space to Jordan Reyne say, or what a more mature Lorde might one day reach. What we have here is songs standing strong when stripped of their original sound and repurposed, repositioned. And all of the elements shine – the voice, the new arrangement and the old song. A triumph for all, and possibly a chance for Danilova’s musical character to find a new audience.