Thursday, 15 September 2011
[full version of my review of Maria Minerva's Cabaret Cixous, from The Wire magazine #332, Oct 2011. From now on, I'm going to put here my otherwise not available articles published in British press]
Not Not Fun
Although Maria Juur aka Maria Minerva's debut album Cabaret Cixous starts with a song entitled These Days, it's not a new version of Nico's melancholic confession. But the tormented life of Christa Paffgen seems only at first a completely incongruous element to Minerva's private mythology, as presented on her previous EP releases, especially Tallinn at Dawn, full of complicated allusions to feminine desire, schizophrenic sexuality and various difficult (un)pleasures. Like Nico, Minerva struggles for feminine expression and presence in the music. And Juur's dreamy, oceanic, but uncompromising femininity is not miles away from Nico's astonishing gothic folk solo records. Too easily called “woozy” or “romantic”, she's rather testing out the expectations of a young, sexy girl. She's connected to “chillwave” only via a method of sound as if found after 2 or 3 decades lying full fathom five in a rusty swimming pool somewhere in a villa in Los Angeles. Noble Savage and especially Tallinn at Dawn showcased her production skills, an ability to put rich layers of sound one onto another with incredible charm and beauty.
In her escape or at least problematization of the usual associations of femininity, she was using ironically romantic titles and retro pop and disco hooks, then elegantly disrupting them in her charming sound-cum-psychoanalysis machine. Yet an ambitious title belies how Cabaret Cixous shows the signs of overproduction (her third release in six months!). She goes further than before, risking pretension in citing Helene Cixous, philosopher and guru of ecriture feminine, who gained fame after her 1975 essay The Laugh of Medusa. This text attempts to define woman's writing and her dependence on logocentric language. Freud said that woman always looks at herself in a schizophrenic way, assuming the role of a man. Medusa was supposed to take this view back. “Men haven't changed a thing, they've theorized their desire for reality.” says Cixous. Thing is, here we look at Medusa and discover that she's not only alive, but she's beautiful and she's laughing.
In another self-conscious move, Juur claims here only a Cixous cabaret-making, nothing more than that, neither serious, nor academic. Hence the karaoke pop tunes, cheap new age synth ballads, purposely “bad sound” and, as someone said, “cellphone fidelity”. Yet as we know, cabarets turned out to be the most serious catalyst of any worthwhile art of the 20th century. Here, the cabaret is a young woman in her room, an Estonian on a willing London exile, trying various masks in front of her mirror, looking sometimes grotesque, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes seductive, putting beauty into question. Cabaret is equally about the masquerade in this infinitely narcissistic theatre, as it is about inscribing these private things into some bigger scheme. But then again, it realises it is after all “only pop music” released by the most fashionable label of the season, so it stops somehow in the middle. What makes this record special nevertheless, is its longing for undefined freedom, for means of self-expression, an Easterner questioning the latest Western devices. Who in female pop is still even asking such questions today?