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  • When Zola Jesus' Nika Roza Danilova was approached to perform at the Guggenheim at the close of her Conatus tour, she chose Foetus' J.G. Thirlwell to help her arrange her songs for the Mivos Quartet. It's a fitting collaboration; they're both artists with industrial music roots and a willingness to expand far beyond them. Thirlwell's versatility is well known, both with Foetus and in projects that span sound sculptures to scoring Adult Swim's Venture Brothers series. While Danilova's career isn't that wide-ranging (yet), she welcomes change on every album and particularly on Conatus, where she further refined her mix of dark and hopeful sounds. On Versions, the pair lets the melodic beauty of Danilova's songs emerge from their often noisy cocoons, and the results sound stronger and braver than might be expected. Thirlwell is a sympathetic and detail-oriented arranger, adding gently tumbling strings as Danilova sighs "and it all falls down" on "Avalanche (Slow)" and occasional discordant notes on the striking, previously unreleased "Fall Back" that brilliantly express the unease that can hide in sweeping romantic gestures like this. As on Conatus, Versions explores strength in vulnerability. The nakedness of Danilova's voice and words brings her songs' poignancy into sharp focus, especially on tracks such as "Night" and "Collapse," both of which have an aching beauty that evokes This Mortal Coil's "Song to the Siren." The album also offers more examples of the ongoing dialogue between Danilova and her work; this is the third version of "Sea Talk" to appear on a Zola Jesus album, and the most hopeful-sounding rendition yet. Likewise, she imbues the Conatus highlight "In Your Nature" with an anthemic thrust that gives the song's fatalistic sentiments a strange but welcome uplifting quality. While Versions may be too tasteful-seeming for die-hard fans of early Zola Jesus, the album's undeniable beauty reveals another accomplished facet to Danilova's music. ~ Heather Phares
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