Okovi showcases the searing, fully-formed music of Nika Danilova, an album of close personal experiences rendered into urgent goth-pop songs as emotional as they are necessary.
On the cover of her fifth studio album, Zola Jesus is drenched in a similar viscous substance that obscured her face on the sleeve to her 2010 Stridulum EP. Okovi, named with a word that means “shackles” in most Slavic languages, also marks a return to Sacred Bones, the Brooklyn label that nurtured the singer and producer in her early years and on which she’s released all her albums except for 2014’s Taiga, which came out on Mute. Zola Jesus, also known as Nika Roza Danilova, said three years ago that she hoped Taiga would break through to pop radio, climb the Billboard charts, and unpin Zola Jesus from her goth-pop niche. None of that happened; Zola Jesus has still only grazed the Billboard 200 by way of her feature on M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, but the abandonment of her Top 40 aspirations has yielded some of her most powerful music since that Stridulum EP and its sternum-cracking single “Night.”
Since Taiga’s release, Danilova experienced multiple brushes with death: Someone close to her was diagnosed with cancer, a close friend attempted suicide twice, and she herself felt pulled by depression’s gravity. Okovi threads these stories together in both oblique and direct retellings. Danilova yearns “to keep that knife from you” on the mournful, string-based “Witness”; on its punchier sequel “Siphon,” she insists, “We’d rather clean the blood of a living man…we’d hate to see you give into those cold dark nights inside your head.” These direct appeals to suicidal loved ones conjure an urgency that…