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The faint, echoing reverb flecked vocals that open Taiga are just a mere glimmer of the past. A gothic, mysterious past that Zola Jesus is keen to shed on this, her fourth studio record. Like dispatching with the trappings of the city and running straight for the woods, Taiga is an immediate call for the wilderness - full of grand horns, sustained notes and an up-tempo, almost break-beat style beat that gallops into view, trips, picks itself up and continues head first to the wild. Even the title hints at this escape, 'Taiga' being a Russian word referring to the boreal forests of Northern Europe and America.

Taiga also marks a change in direction, one first indicated by the way those faint reverberated vocals disappear into the mists to be replaced by a clean, un-affected vocal from Nika Danilova set front and centre. By adopting a natural aural aesthetic, Zola Jesus exhibits a greater confidence in her songwriting, dragging her lyrics from the murky depths of her earlier records to stand blinking in the sunlight. Her vocals are set against a brighter, more energetic backing resulting in a less claustrophobic sound that will, inevitably be dismissed as "poppy" by some.

To do so would be a huge disservice to an album that marks a bold new direction for an artist who has always worked on her own terms. 'Dangerous Days' opens with swirling synthesisers underneath Nika's vocal, the beat meanwhile has one eye on the dance floor. By removing the vocal manipulation that characterised records like Stridulum, Zola Jesus' music is given a more euphoric edge, particularly on a chorus like this. Nika's vocals soar over ghostly ambience and a steady, energetic beat that presses onward.

'Dangerous Days' takes its name, and perhaps even its themes, from the documentary exploring the creation of the movie Blade Runner. Directed by Ridley Scott, its production is notable for constant meddling from studio executives, resulting in seven different versions of the movie being released at one point or another. Dangerous Days focuses on the release of The Final Cut, the only version of the movie where Scott had complete artistic freedom and widely regarded as the superior version of the Blade Runner story. This is referenced by Zola Jesus in the line "It's dangerous to go and listen to what they say" and the wider thematic idea of standing up for your beliefs in the face of resistance.

Part of this confidence is thanks to Nika reconnecting with her opera instructor, who she credits with helping her to find her "innate voice". That rediscovery has paved the way for gorgeous, cinematic tracks like 'Dust'. Here the instruments are sometimes so quiet that its almost as though Nika's singing a cappella. When they do make a more prominent appearance, such as the stabs of horns in the chorus, they provide a sense of grandeur, or during the build up of the middle-eight a sense of thrill.

Whilst Zola Jesus' previous albums (particularly Conatus) had their thrilling moments, nothing comes close to Taiga. Tracks like 'Hunger', 'Go' and 'It's Not Over' are big, bold moments. The former opens with excited brass and an infectious beat that skips the dance floor to reconnect with a more distinctly primal urge to move and let loose. Some might be concerned by the lack of subtlety evident in these songs, but the message and focus is still there, it's just being communicated differently.

Thematically, Taiga is a record about confidence and ambition. Nika's previous records dealt more with struggle, whilst here her focus is on overcoming and being triumphant. 'Hunger' talks of desire and surrendering to it in order to be freed of normalcy, transported to something new and fantastic. 'Lawless' meanwhile looks back to a time of loneliness and struggle before ending on statement of intent, a look towards a brighter, more hopeful future. "You either run or you take it," Nika sings, "and I know I was built to make it out alive."

That sense of a new future runs throughout Taiga and is evidenced further in Zola Jesus' discussion of the album, which she describes as being her "true debut". Certainly it makes last year's Versions, a album of re-worked tracks from her first three records with JG Thirlwell and a string quartet, feel like a signing off of Zola Jesus 1.0 before the arrival of her renewed self. It also serves as a small indicator of her move towards this more confident, clearer aesthetic thanks to its use of acoustic instrumentation and live vocals. Whilst Taiga still deals heavily in electronics, the opening, ominous patter of 'Ego' or 'Lawless' grand, cyberpunk synthesisers for example, it borrows some of Versions more naturalistic arrangements and instruments. 'Lawless' features a chorus of strings over crunchy, atmospheric drums that help to brighten the track alongside that optimistic statement of intent. 'Ego's swelling strings most easily recall Nika's work with Thirlwell and easily create the record's most powerful moment.

Fans might be a little disappointed that there's nothing like 'Night' or 'Run Me Out' on this record, but the sense of the gothic, coupled with the anxiety and vulnerability that ran through Stridulum and Conatus isn't really appropriate here and it's certainly not where Nika Danilova's head is at right now. Perhaps that will lose some fans, but Zola Jesus is more likely to gain new fans thanks to an album that revels in its ambitions. Ultimately Taiga is sonically different to its predecessors, but at heart it feels like a true continuation of Zola Jesus' story. This is what it sounds like when an artist matures, discovers a confidence they perhaps never knew they had, and return, revitalised.

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