Zola Jesus at KOKO
KOKO had the feel of an after-work city bar on Tuesday, with a noticeably large number of balding heads and suit jackets dotted amongst the crowd. Despite the 14+ entry policy on the door, the average age inside must have been a lot greater than Zola Jesus’ 25 years. This was surprising, as her brand of quirky baroque/goth/synth-pop seems far better suited to angsty, alternative teens than prematurely aging office workers.
Whatever label she gives her music, it remains pop – catchy and accessible, although with add-on embellishments that emit a slightly darker, more arcane mood. This mood characterises her new album, Taiga, which sounds like Evanescence with an electronica twist and a touch of M83. Glitchy percussion occasionally breaks into intentionally difficult mayhem, and film-score synths loom with exaggerated reverb, but ultimately her lyrics – and especially her voice – are too generic, anesthetising any innovation present in the music.
On the night, everything electronic sounds straight from the GarageBand audio-bank. The drum sounds are unimaginative and add nothing to the over-epic, rolling rhythms that beat on seemingly unchanged throughout the gig. The keyboard synths are simple and predictable. The only sound with any real depth comes from the brass section, which is underused and out of place. Jesus’ voice is no better – despite her operatic training, she begins out of tune, and fails to hit notes throughout. At her best she sounds uncannily like Miley Cyrus; otherwise the effect is glaringly uninspiring.
The opening is impressive as she appears on stage, thrashing her hair manically to a barrage of noise and sped-up drum-loops in front of a decorative polygonal tent. For a moment it seems as though we are about to witness some sort of conceptual performance-art or religious rite – an illusion which shatters quickly when she starts singing. Before anyone in the audience has a chance to warm to her, she jumps on top of a speaker and reaches down towards the front row like an established mega-star at a music festival. Such choreographed, false-charismatic moves continue throughout, and though heads nod along to the tunes, Zola Jesus fails to get people’s feet moving.
Photos: Erol Birsen
For further information about Zola Jesus and future events visit here.
Watch the video for Dangerous Days here: