The mood shifts slightly back into the old witch house/ goth roots with a smooth coat of r&b over it on "Dust", the song resonates with me more than "Dangerous Days" which is still trying to grow on me. The backing track is sparser and darker here. The songs have more breathing room, even in the dynamic builds. One reason for this is she has said in recent interview that she wrote these songs around her voice , rather than crating sound capes and singing on top of them. This is very obvious on the song "Nail" which lays her voice out nakedly.
The synths that open "Hunger" caught me off guard as they were a little brighter , but this songs turns into one of the albums more intense moments, and captures the emotion I want from her. Like Morrissey or Robert Smith, Zola now has put herself into a place where we don't her to be happy, yet she paints with a broader emotional capacity here. "I've got a hunger in my veins/ I won't surrender until it takes me away/" doesn't come across like she is talking about addiction, it seems hopeful likes its more about recovery.
Vocally her strongest moment is "Go (Blank Sea)" , she abandons her trademark belting on the verses and allows her voice some room to sing. There are also some darker synths haunting the background on this one. What has changed is there is less noise and harsh experimentation , this is sometimes missed more than others, as the weirdness that does color the songs works with them rather than against them. So you might be disappointed it that was your favorite thing about her earlier work.
Lyrically the big difference is the clarity of the soul searching. The recovery theme is not unfounded when she sings lines like "From first step to last / I'm rising from the ashes " on "Ego". So the sobering mood is some what brighter relying on the subtle shadows of songs like the vast "Lawless". Some of this recovery might not be from substance , but from the urban environment she previously wrote in as this album was written from a remote island of the Washington coast.
Her songs have traditionally grown on me, the ones that initially catch my ear like "Long Way Down" don't mean they will always be the most endearing in the long run.The hook as less subtle here, so I am not sure if they will still work like creeper weed on this one, as sugary as pop is it normally sticks more at first, but if anyone is going to break that rule it would be her. There are some songs with a dynamic range like "Hollow" that can't be denied even upon first listen, as they are rather breath taking . This is where the more mature song writing approach is most evident.
The album ends with ethereal musing of "It's Not Over" , where I think old Zola and New Zola are best blended. It's the darker feel I want married to the crisper song writing and production. Like I said she tends to grow on me so I am working off first impressions of the handful of times I have listened to this album, once it's loaded in the iPod and I see what type of soundtrack it provides to daily life I will be able to more fully digest it. I new a change in how things worked for her was going to happen, and though this is poppier it's a far cry from Lorde or Pink so she hasn't sold out on us so breathe another sigh of relief. I'll go ahead and give this one a 10, though if you know me that's not going to come as much of a surprise.