Zola Jesus - Arkhon

14 Jun 2022 - Thorsten

Electronic, Dark Wave | Sacred Bones Records | Release date: 24 Jun 2022

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A few weeks ago I started a review with connecting the music to that old and still not confirmed Merzbow-quote that noise is only music that makes one uneasy and that therefore pop music to him was noise. Now I want to talk about a pop record that would probably not make the Japanese squirm because of uneasiness but would soothe his ears: Arkhon the latest release by Wisconsin-based pop-singer Zola Jesus!

Whenever Nika Rose opens her mouth to sing or whenever she goes on stage to perform she leaves with a lot of mouths and minds open because of what happens when she does either of the two. Her voice has this automatic pop appeal but the things she talks about are surely not poppy love-songs – maybe she has heard that quote by McCartney saying “Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs“ - there are just too many and there is hardly anything that hasn‘t already been said about that topic.

Nevertheless, she surely follows in the footsteps of other female voices who use the pop format in order to subversively include different messages, some of loss - “I was trying to grief but I don‘t know … should I let it go … when we lose our son will you still be the one“ (“Dead And Gone“) is a sign of not being able to grief such a devastating loss as the death of one’s child because of not knowing if the partner will still be around. All that is carried on the backbone of a song which only seems to be an organ, some string instrumentation and some Oriental-like dragged out drone (which might be based on a very deep cello or a rather high classical bass). That is one stand-out track – but only one of ten!

The opening track “Lost“ is another great example of how Zola Jesus-tracks work: We have that singular voice, we have a lot of overdubbed vocals resulting in a kind of choir effect and we have a beat which makes it all so much more interesting, here it is a rhythm close to Afro-Beat! Quite often we have a very calm opening which sounds nearly as if she tries to lure us into the tempting thought of tranquility, and right before we are sure about this concept she springs on us with the piano-and-vocals-only track “Desire“ - magic. Or we get a track like the ensuing “Fault“ which is industrial as pop can be without converting to an industrial or techno track – here the underlying beats are wide, sometimes scary, a bit like Doldinger‘s “Das Boot“ - main theme, a truly engaging piece of music.

The ideas behind Arkhon are surely not one to fall in love with as the title of the record as Arkon is an idea of real power given to gods who cannot wield such and thus cannot deal with the responsibility so that in the end they are being corrupted by their power – an image that can easily be applied to a lot of people in power at the moment, right? Think of all the MAGA-bearers, the stupid KGB-face in the Kreml, the dictator in Belarus and many others all around the world. Nevertheless, the fact that one can identify these power which subdue us is already one important first step on the passage to set things right again which might only happen when everyone looks at the others and accepts them as equals. That is also one of the ideas behind Arkhon - unite to fight. Quite a subversive idea for a simple pop record, right? Sometimes these little pop ditties can set the world on fire – much more than a harsh metal or noise track could, right? It will reach and maybe influence more people. And maybe make them feel uneasy about the world we live in!