Zola Jesus - Okovi
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Zola Jesus' Nika Roza may have named her sixth album after the Slavic word for shackles, but more often than not, Okovi is a reminder that not all ties are bad. To release the album, she returned to her longtime label Sacred Bones after her bid for mainstream success, Taiga, appeared on Mute; likewise, she moved back to Wisconsin and built a home near her childhood treehouse after a stint in Seattle. It's not surprising, then, that Roza also revisits the sounds of her earliest work on Okovi. The penetrating vocals and rattling beats of songs like "Exhumed" and "Wiseblood" are classic Zola Jesus, calling to mind Stridulum and The Spoils. Crucially, though, she's not just rehashing the past with any of these moves. Instead, she sounds revitalized and inspired to express -- and fight against -- real-life struggles that include her own depression as well as those close to her surviving suicide attempts and cancer diagnoses. The results are some of her most beautiful and empathetic songs yet. More than ever, the darkness and light within Zola Jesus' music support each other beautifully: Roza begins the album with "Doma," a luminously warm track that feels like a candlelit prayer or spell of protection. By contrast, she embodies utter hopelessness on "Soak," the tale of a woman who chooses to drown herself rather than be murdered. As dark as Okovi gets, however, it's filled with compassion. The ethereal strings that grace the album add to the special, sacred feeling of tracks such as "Half Life," while Roza's voice sounds powerful enough to lift anyone up from suffering on the gorgeous "Witness" and "Siphon," where her layered vocals sound like an army of angels as she sings "Won't let you bleed out/Can't let you bleed out." The realness of songs like these makes Okovi more accessible than Taiga's polish, especially when Roza transforms her concerns about mortality into seize-the-moment anthems like "Veka" and "Remains," both of which reaffirm that dancing is one of the best ways to exorcize pain. A deeply comforting album, Okovi is some of Zola Jesus' purest-sounding, most profound music in years.