There have been a lot of artists that have popped up repeatedly on RSTB over the many years, but few with the consistency of Zola Jesus. Nika Danilova’s first appearance was in 2008 on a year end list of 7″s, marking her “Souer Sewer” cut as one to watch in the coming years. Seems like she’s not only been one to watch, but one to anticipate with great hopes as each release nears. Her work has set a high bar not only for those enamored with the dark strains of industrial and goth but for any electronic or pop record in a given year. Her latest, Okovi is one of her most personal albums and a stunning reminder of her power as a vocalist – confronting tragedy with a strident battalion of sound. For her entry to Hidden Gems, Danilova has picked a record far from the beaten track, the 1973 eponymous work of French Gregorian singer Magdalith, whose works echo Zola Jesus’ own balance of desolation and heart-stopping vocals.
Danilova explains how this truly hidden gem came into her sphere of influence, “I barely even remember, outside of discovering one of her songs on YouTube,” she explains. “I think that’s how I first heard her. I was probably feverishly clicking around trying to find interesting vocalists I haven’t heard before. Her song “La Naissance” popped up and hooked me instantly. It was super hard to find anything out about her. I think she only made a couple records and then receded into the ether.
“Only a couple of her songs were available to listen on iTunes,” lamented Danilova. “I eventually had to track down her record from Discogs. But the record is so good, very unusual. I’ve never heard anything exactly like it. Maybe she fits in the world of Sheila Chandra or Patti Waters, but something about her feels very different.” As usual, I asked if the record has seeped into her own music, to which Nika muses, “Definitely. I love how she combines so many different elements – jazz, Jewish music, Gregorian chant, experimental… it’s just such a treasure. It’s very inspiring.”
As she notes, the record is impossible to find in any digital capacity, so to obtain a copy you’re pretty much left with the same route that lead Nika to track down an original via Discogs (I’ve seen some copies on Ebay as well). Madgalith’s world is enticing, though, and a bit mysterious at that. From what little I can glean in my own research she was born Jewish, converted to Christianity at 19 and delved into the world of Gregorian music and non-traditional composition leaving behind three albums worth of otherworldly music before entering the convent in 1976. There was a dual CD version issued in 1993 with material from this album and its follow-up, Grégorien, but that appears to be long gone. In a world of reissues, someone would do well to get on this for sure, but for now I’m happy to let her mystery build even greater. In it’s stead, you’d do well to pick up Okovi next week, an album that’s looking very likely to wind up on every year-end list come December.
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