The eerie, washed-out video for Zola Jesus's single "Seekir" is probably best prefaced with an explanation from its director, Jacqueline Castel: "In ‘Seekir,'" she says, "sacred geometry and the movements of Russian philosopher George Gurdjieff are explored within the constraints of a pop music video as dances are formed on the star polygon enneagram."
If that sounds cerebral, the video itself is perfectly visceral.
With her blonder-than-bleach-blonde hair, tiny frame and flowy white dresses, Zola Jesus might, for a second, seem very light. But there's something about her that's irrepressibly dark—that much is certain when you hear the blend of ambient noise, goth, synth, and electronic pop on her latest album Conatus, released last fall.
The solo project and stage name of 23-year-old Nika Roza Danilova, Zola Jesus has three EPs and three full-length albums to her name. Her sound has always been vaguely melancholic, but on Conatus she's abandoned the lo-fi style of her earlier outings for more crystal-clear anxiety, articulated in her haunting, opera-trained voice.
In her video for "Seekir," Danilova dresses all this grief in blinding white. Gurdjieff, that Russian philosopher whose teachings the video is meant to explore, might explain the break from convention—a key component of Zola Jesus's image. He believed that human beings spent most of their lives in an unthinking state of walking sleep; the goal was to wake up from it and see the world as it really was. A student of philosophy herself, Danilova doesn't see any contradiction between light and dark. She's woken up, seen the light, and is shedding it on some pretty dark stuff.
That's not to say that the video, or the rest of her work, is depressing. Her nihilism is urgent and honest; she's aware, but she isn't resigned. That could be what makes her performance in "Seekir" so compelling: to the beat of her own chilling verse, she thrusts and turns and cries out restlessly, as if in reflex against the fear and the ambivalence that makes her music so powerful. We're not afraid of her; we're afraid with her.
In concert, Zola Jesus operates less independently, accompanied by an electric violinist, a drummer, and a few different synthesizers. She begins touring internationally this Friday in Portugal, arriving in the US August 11. For a full schedule of tour dates, see below.
July 13: Lisbon, Portugal - Optimus Alive
July 14: Suffolk, UK - Latitude Festival
July 15: Berlin, Germany - Melt Festival
July 17: Amsterdam, Netherlands- Daffaire Festival
July 18: Milan, Italy - Magnolia
July 20: San Sebastian, Spain - Jazzlandia
July 21: St. Petersburg, Russia - GlavClub Leto
July 22: Moscow, Russia - Muzeon Sumer Park
July 28: Randall's Island, NY - Catalpa Festival
August: 5 Montreal, QC - Osheaga
August: 11 San Francisco. CA - Outside Lands
September 8: Raleigh, NC - Lincoln Theater
September 21: Chicago, IL - Riverfront Theater
October 13: Austin, TX - ACL