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ZOLA JESUS / EMA @ MANCHESTER ACADEMY 24/11/11 - REVIEW BY PHIL KING

 
There’s always a place for the darker side of music; a collaboration of lyrics and sounds that lie dormant in the subconscious until they’re dredged up laid bare for all to see. It’s an uncomfortable listen at times at times but can be with perseverance ultimately rewarding. Latest to deal in the currency of darkness and despair is American Zola Jesus whose last appearance in Manchester at the Deaf Institute was a talking point for weeks after due to the intensity of her performance. So there was quite a buzz for the second coming of Zola Jesus, albeit this time to the less salubrious confines of Academy 3. 

However before the arrival of the mysterious Ms Jesus, EMA ambles on to the small Academy 3 stage with her three band mates and slowly unfurls their opening song. No stranger to Manchester herself, ex Gowns member Erika M Anderson drives through the tracks from their/her accomplished and critically acclaimed debut LP ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’ which everyone should make the effort to hear if not own. Skirting the line that separates experimentation and all out rock, EMA doesn’t shy away from hammering out power chords from her guitar. Highlights of the set include the very wonderful ‘California’ and an expanded and granite hard ‘Butterfly Collector’ that uses the LP version only as a springboard to a wall of noise built using judicious use of electric violin and guitar static that’s nothing but exhilarating. Hopefully the EMA will return to Manchester again new year with her own headline show. 

 

The blonde Zola Jesus and her band wafts onto the Academy stage to the tune of the opening track of her brand new album, the very wonderful ‘Conatus’. In fact all but two of the tracks will be played from the new work tonight; such is the consistent high quality of its contents. Under a light show of stark white light that’s punctuated with moments of headache inducing strobe lighting, the band embark on a sonic journey into the nether regions of the soul. At the centre of this swirl is the diminutive frame of Zola Jesus, who eventually loses herself in a deep trance brought on by the howling synths. However one shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that this music is motionless and clinical, it’s not; the forward rush of the drums adds a warm kinetic that gives the music an emotional pulse. But it’s the voice that’s the most striking. A great booming instrument that’s unleashed at will to create a dramatic charge to each song.

If there is a downside though, for an artist that deals in chilly atmospherics, the staid surrounding of the Academy 3 doesn’t add anything to the performance. Music of this nature needs a more theatrical stage like a traditional theatre or a church. Somewhere that enhances the drama and makes it more of a spectacle than a rock show. But still, an evening full of wonders, from an artist slowly ascending to the height of her powers.

Setlist:

Swords
Avalanche
Hikikomori
Stridulum
Collapse
Sea Talk
In Your Nature
Shivers
Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake
Clay Bodies (the Spoils)
Ixode
Vessel

Encore:

Run Me Out

Review by Phil King /photos by Mel