Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley
When you read through Nika Roza Danilova's biography, it's as if you're peering into the makings of someone who could have been fairly messed up. She could be having lasting nightmares from her childhood years. She could be something else, something slightly off from the norm. The reality is that episodes like her father hanging deer heads from trees in the yard just gave her some of the same perspectives that so many rural Midwestern kids are treated to when they might not yet be ready for them. They're taken hunting when they're just little boys and girls. They watch dad skin a deer carcass or a muskrat hanging from an exposed water pipe, by an old shoelace strung to a hind leg, right next to where you shower every morning before heading off to middle school. They help around the farm with the animals, with births and with all kinds of deaths. There's an understanding of the preciousness of life, gleaned from growing up on a farm, that isn't so easily come by when experiencing it solely through movies and video games. Even news reports and video of real violence, death and destruction still feels fabricated and only real on a screen, when you've stood only a few feet away from a hog that's being butchered for a roast later the next day or when you hear the rifle shot piercing the air when pops took care of the old, sick and suffering cat or dog out behind the shed. Danilova, in growing up amongst 100 acres of forestland in rustic Wisconsin, experienced a lot of these things, which she believes led her into her darker leaning thoughts. It's rural gothic, with Zola Jesus material riding on the sexy and cold, autumn breezes that don't so much rip through the shutting down trees, but remain there like a grip, in the hollows, waiting to catch your breath as you pass through on a setting sun dusk. The songs on "Stridulum" and "Valusia," the two EPs that she put out last year, Danilova doesn't treat us to the macabre, just the may it might feel to have the macabre effect the most minor, yet major human concern: being left behind or forgotten. It's a feeling most encapsulated in the song "Trust Me," from "Stridulum," where Danilova's trying to tell another that she'll be there, that they should just trust her. It's not in our natures to just blindly trust other people though, maybe. Maybe we're wary and we should be. We should be wary that we could just get stuck in the dark, lights out. When the nights start getting longer, when the dark starts coming earlier in the afternoon, as the year grows long in the tooth, we lose some faith in what we felt that we knew or had been used to. We stand like the deer, waiting to be brought down, but not thinking it will ever happen.
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