, August 15th, 2011 10:07
Not Not Fun have been making increasing forays into regions skirting dance music over the last eight months or so, especially with the launch of sister label 100% Silk, whose 12”s feature dancefloor tracks coated in the label’s usual grubby sheen. However, on the whole these efforts have been, if not disappointing, then at least underwhelming – yes, they’ve been beat-driven, but many of them have lacked punch and intrinsic awareness of the demands of the club; dance music for the head, rather than the feet, and a nightmare to mix. One exception has been Ital, whose recent ‘Culture Clubs’, ‘Only For Tonight’ and LA Vampires collaboration Streetwise have found a great balance between NNF’s aesthetic and the requirements of a killer (if lopsided) club tune.
Another has been London-dwelling, Estonia-born Maria Minerva, whose Tallinn At Dawn tape and Noble Savage EP certainly displayed knowledge of how to make a functional dance tune – but, to their credit, decided to completely disregard it anyway, choking everything in a thick layer of attic dust. Her follow-up, and the latest in NNF’s current run of great albums (see also: LA Vampires, Peaking Lights, Psychic Reality, Ensemble Economique), Cabaret Cixous, is something quite different. On the surface it’s similar enough: Minerva’s weightless croon still drifts untethered across the music’s surface, and it’s still of a piece with NNF’s overall blurred and smudged ‘sound’. But production values have taken an audible upwards jump, even as beats appear to have receded further still into the background - Cabaret Cixous is still bedroom pop, but it’s bedroom pop with ambitions far more expansive than its four walls.
The first real clue as to the (surprisingly swift) progression of Minerva’s music comes with the album’s triumphant second track, ‘Pirate’s Tale’. Her lazy, nigh-on unintelligible vocals feel at once enclosed within and separate from the music they accompany, all woozy synthetic brass blowing a stately march above kitchen sink percussion. It also makes abundantly clear one of the album’s main musical reference points – and indeed, something much of the NNF roster are currently audibly fascinated by – dub. Beguiled by the studio’s manipulative charm, vocals, beats and individual instruments are stretched outward to fill a psychic space far wider than the physical space they were recorded within. Similarly, although loose and dog-eared around the edges, bass is a constant companion throughout the length of Cabaret Cixous, either as an ever-present, indistinct rumble or as discrete bursts that arrive slightly offset from where they ought to. And on closer 'Ruff Trade', dub reggae's offbeat guitar upstrokes form the track's entire rhythmic backbone.
At its best, Cabaret Cixous offers something quite different from Minerva's US equivalents (interestingly, as a London resident, she's one of the few non-States dwellers on the label). Her sound, such as it is, is still most obviously tied to the muggy, eighties-influenced half-dreamscapes explored by her contemporaries across the pond - NNF head honcho Amanda Brown's LA Vampires project, with its similar dub fixation, is an obvious reference. But it's set apart by being physically engaging and strongly evocative of motion; where many of the hypnagogic set revel in stasis and suspended animation, Minerva's music, though cut from similar cloth, never loses its grip on bodily reality. That's felt acutely in the sunken disco of the aptly named 'Soooo High' and 'I Love Ctrl', but most keenly of all in 'Laulan Paikse Kaes'. The album's highlight, what starts as a broken dance track slowly and gracefully collapses in upon itself in a waterfall-like rush of synth and decayed percussion. Throughout, her voice is hopeless to resist the undertow, as though it had been doomed from the moment the track began.
A lot’s been made of the sensuality of Minerva’s music - certainly Noble Savage felt exhibitionist and flirty in its physical motion - but if anything Cabaret Cixous is the most naïve record she’s made so far. It feels in thrall to the joy of playing music for its own sake, and though at times her sultry delivery feels controlled and self-aware (as on carefully annunciated ABBA cover ‘Honey Honey’), they’re outnumbered by the times she’s completely lost control of her inhibitions. It’s particularly noticeable during the gradual dissolution of ‘Laulan Paikse Kaes’, when, after struggling to express her words properly, Minerva eventually gives up and resorts to a series of excitable whoops, which slowly tail off into the murky background. So perhaps that’s where the connection to the dancefloor really lies in her music: in its willingness to give up the helm and simply lose itself in the sensory bliss of the moment.