Where do you begin with Versions? First of all, as its name suggests, these songs are reworks of existing tracks by Zola Jesus. Secondly, she collaborats here with JG Thirwell, a veteran of the industrial and experimental scene, and The Mivos Quartet who are a classical bunch who reinterpret contemporary music. That, as an introduction to the album will suffice.
Zola Jesus is, not that you’d guess, a Russian American who is known to her family as Nika Roza Danilova. No, that doesn’t mean that she’s going any- and everywhere at breakneck pace. She’s a twenty four year old with an interest in the darker things in life. Generally, that makes me kinda like her stuff before I’d heard it. But my god, Versions is something else.
The genesis of Versions began when she was invited to play at the Guggenheim museum in New York. Instead of doing her usual electronic thing she decided to go with strings. The question was, who would do the strings? So she teamed up with JG Thirlwell and The Mivos Quartet and played a redone version of Avalanche. In the end, an album was born of this unlikely combination. Zola Jesus singing, JG Thirlwell leading and conducting, and Mivos doing the playing.
What we end up is ten tracks, one of which is new (Fall Back) and two versions of Avalanche. The strings create an atmosphere of minimalist emotion. Fall Back and Night are two examples of this.
The surprise here is the percussion. It’s something that I wasn’t expecting on iota. After all, these are supposed to be classical reworkings. This surely is the impact of Thirlwell coming to the fore. It adds a driving dimension that you think shouldn’t work – but it does. To my ears, the most effective use of percussion comes on Seekir.
The voice of Danilova ranges from the understated, plaintive longing of In Your Nature to the bombastic and emphatic of Seekir.
Normally, I’m not one for reworking albums. Essentially it smacks of contractual obligation at best, and at worse a wringing of fans’ wallets. Not so here with Versions; the inclusion of Thirlwell and The Mivos Quartet are strokes of genius. It is no exaggeration to say that this is my current favourite album of the year. If I get round to doing a ‘best of’ list around the turn of the year, I have no doubt that this will be near the top.
Versions by Zola Jesus with JG Thirlwell featuring the Mivos Quartet is released in the UK on the 19th of August on Sacred Bones. Buy it. Buy it now.