If the spacey aphorisms Nika Roza Danilova sometimes spouts in interviews (“Earth is a natural dichotomy, and that’s what makes it so interesting”) come off a bit undergraduate-philosophy-major, it’s probably because Danilova is an undergraduate philosophy major. A student at the University of Wisconsin and a full-time purveyor of terminally bleak art pop, the 22-year-old Zola Jesus mastermind trades in harsh synthscapes, siren-voiced theatrics, and frequently unintelligible lyrics. What started out as a lo-fi update of the 1980s New York art-damage milieu (read: Swans) is now an increasingly polished version of the same, but Zola Jesus’ tortured goth operettas rarely grate. That’s because beneath the gloom and cobwebs, Danilova knows how to write a pop hook, or at least slip in a hint of one. Meanwhile, she pumps out straight-up Auto-Tune jams in her side project Nika + Rory. There’s a Depeche Mode-sized future somewhere between the two bands’ sounds, but Zola Jesus hasn’t managed to make its own “Personal Jesus” yet.
Zola Jesus performs at 8:30 p.m. at Red Palace, 1212 H St. NE. $14.