I saw Zola Jesus perform at a music festival. Her music is not well served playing to a semi-indifferent crowd in the middle of a muddy field at two in the afternoon. At least it was drizzling slightly. But if I was semi-indifferent myself at the start of her set, I was all in by the end of it. Despite unconducive circumstances, it’s hard not to be blown away by that voice. The ice-goth aesthetic doesn’t hurt either, but it’s all about the voice. It’s music for long nights in dark places. I can’t help thinking it’s no coincidence she comes from places where the winter and the nights are long, the land of the ice and snow, if you will. A Wisconsinite of Russian descent, she knows about the long cold dark hours of the soul. Nothing comforts the wintry spirit like some otherworldly wailing, that’s for sure.
Here’s an artist you should start getting to know: Zola Jesus. Hers is both an unusual story and yet a very thoroughly modern one. To make it short and sweet, she’s a child of Russian emigres, born Nika Danilova, raised in small-town Wisconsin, who started her musical career making tapes in her bedroom and posting them on the internet. She built an audience of fans who were entranced by her otherworldly voice and ice-witch aesthetic. She’s made five albums and still lives in Wisconsin. That’s a modern-day, internet-age ascent to… not exactly fame, but the kind of niche success that outlasts mere celebrity and allows for decades of artistic growth. In pre-internet times, weirdo artists had to built their weirdo careers by locating themselves in the kind of cultural centers where weird-taste having people gather, playing and touring incessantly, and hoping for a write-up in one of a handful of influential publications. Nowadays you can do those things without leaving the comfort of your home. Word of mouth is still word of mouth, though, and self-promotion is still work, so I’m not saying that bedroom artists who make it out of their bedrooms are less deserving of acclaim. It’s just that they’re less likely to die trying. Kids these days can just network and self-promote without having to step in bigger stars’ vomit in the back hallway of the CBGB.
In honor of a long and grueling Austin City Limits weekend, I’m doing a little feature on some of the acts I saw there (and elsewhere). This is partly in benefit to people in my life who have access to my photo galleries but may not know who-all everybody is. So, in order, chronologically…
A new discovery, highly recommended
Misrepresented in the schedule as ‘Patrick Wilson’, another new discovery. Recommended, for fans of the mellow and emo.
A brilliant musician, well-deserved Grammy winner, and a great beauty.
Quite simply, a goddess.
Her atmospheric style would have been better served playing at night, but she worked it. A beautiful voice and image.
I’ve found Rufus to be too campy in the past, but his new song for his little daughter is absolutely sweet.
A very good songwriter and musician, but a bit too low-key for the big stage, in my opinion.
Really expected it to be torture to sit through, because I hate hip-hop, but DAMN! These guys are old school – they have things to say and they are real musicians. Damn good ones.
As cantankerous as ever. No playing the hits for old Neil. Just blistering, ear-shattering, never-ending brand-new songs, generating more noise than
I didn’t have very high expectations for Kimbra, because I only knew her from her collaboration with Gotye, which was kind of a typical slightly annoying pop song (ok, kind of good actually). But, if it makes it any easier, think of her as an EDM Kate Bush.
Iggy fuckin’ Pop.
Weird South African hip-hop. Not for everybody, ok. But how can you not love Yo-Landi?
I’ve promoted this noise pop duo before. They’re loud and pretty and harsh and modern all at once.