With the release of single “Siphon,” it was clear that Zola Jesus would be seeking life affirmation upon the release of “Okovi.” The song is addressed to a friend who had just attempted suicide and Jesus seemingly offers the exact kind of comfort someone in that low of a position needs: “you drain it out we clean it up for free…because we’d rather clean the blood off a living man.” As roughly the midpoint of album, “Siphon” becomes the crux of the work, with the front half generally about demons and the second the triumph over them. Unfortunately, the former is a lot more successful than the later, making for an album that almost feels half done, but the songwriting wins are big enough to make the work necessary.
The album signifies a sonic sweet-spot. Jesus’s last effort suffered from a heavy, crowded texture. Here, bass lines are pummeling and huge, and the decorations sleek, making for a much more mature work. “Exhumed” is the most adrenaline drenched as the whirring violins intensify the combative percussion beneath soaring rebel yells. “Soak” turns to a much different mood without over doing the brightness. Jesus’s glorious vocal lines are underpinned by a sluggish feeling rhythmic structure with atmosphere found in the subtle white noise in the head room. “Ash to Bone” is bit more of an acoustic approach as bass and percussion sounds only gently caress a rhythmic drive. It’s understated compared to “Taiga,” but Jesus’s ridiculous voice constantly electrifies the energy.
Lyrically, the work is rather direct. “Witness” is sort of the sister track to “Siphon” as Jesus again tries to protect her friend from the demons of depression: “to keep that knife from you…to pull you from the wreckage of your mind.” Another pair of related tracks comes with “Soak” and “Vek.” Both capture a sense of triumph sonically and they seem to harp on the idea of agency against the aspects of life generally thought to be unchangeable: “Born into debt, a line of no request/Pay what I can but the rest, I have no chance/So, I pay nothing instead/I pay nothing instead.” “Vek” is a bit more abstract lyrically, but the line “Who will find you, When all you are, all you are is dust?” again addresses the doom of life as the triumph taps back into “Soak’s” mood. It seems to give the listener and Jesus herself an ownership over the dark demise us humans eventually face.
Certain aspects of her songwriting seem to come back to bite her on the album’s deep cuts. The lyrical bluntness on “Wiseblood,” for instant, comes across as rather hamfisted: “If it doesn’t make you wiser/Doesn’t make you stronger/Doesn’t make you live a little bit/What are you doing?” Coupled with the rather lazy melody, the track is a total throwaway. “Remains” also has a throwaway chorus: “What remains of us? (x4),” as well as a drum machine that just seems totally out of place on this album. The short outro track sort of implies resolution against the intro’s tension, but these triumphs over the darkness of life don’t go over so well making the storyline incomplete.
“Okovi” is disappointing to some degree. However, it’s disappointing because it offers a great introduction followed by six sharp tracks that flow into one another impeccably before the album trails off to an unearned outro of glorious strings. Had this been an EP, it would’ve been mistake free, but it just sucks to hear weakness from Jesus alongside some hardened career highlights.