The Best Albums of 2013, #19

band01Zola Jesus, Versions

Nika Roza Danilova fits in the very specific, weird template for women singer-songwriters that I have such a weakness for: a predilection for dark tones and themes, a combination of detachment and soul, theatricality yet an innate pop sensibility, poeticism that’s both arch and accessible. However, there’s no denying that after a few albums she has a definite shtick, and it’s easy to envision her slipping into self-parody if not careful. Which is why I think her collection of re-recorded and re-imagined songs could not have come at a better time. Working in collaboration with composer JG Thirlwell, who wrote new string accompaniments for the Mivos Quartet, Danilova gives ten songs, nine of them from previous albums and most from 2011’s Conatus a complete overhaul. Thirlwell’s daring compositional style – highlighted by thrilling bursts of atonality –  and the string quartet’s versatility suits the material perfectly, but Danilova is the real revelation on Versions. The Florence Welch bombast, which can sound like a put-on at times, is gone, in its place a sense of tenderness in her voice that listeners have not heard from her on record before. Compare the Conatus tracks and these, and the difference is stunning. If that weren’t enough, the new song “Fall Back” is the best song I have ever heard her do. I loved Conatus, it placed at number 8 on my 2011 list, but I actually think this album is superior, and hopefully this’ll encourage Danilova to expand her sound on her next proper album even more.

Sacred Bones