LA Vampires & Maria Minerva
The Integration LP
, November 12th, 2012 10:05
Imagine The Integration LP was a dub record, so the title set the collaboration somewhere, as per King Tubby Meets Jacob Miller In A Tenement Yard or Scientist Meets The Space Invaders. Where would we go? LA Vampires Take Maria Minerva to the Discotheque (never forget they're playing roles), where she's seduced by its magical glamour, the pleasures of the groove and the possibility of ecstasy and abandon. Cast: Maria Juur as Maria Minerva, a theoretical girl, a minx with a penchant for deconstruction and dance pop. Previous leading roles in Tallinn at Dawn, last year's Cabaret Cixous and this summer's Will Happiness Find Me? making a narcotic swirl of house with crooked beats. Directed by Amanda Brown under her L.A. Vampires alias, co-head of Not Not Fun (Juur's label) and 100% Silk. The two pals share a taste for representational fun-and-games and a scholarly knowledge of club culture from Paradise Garage to 'Milkshake'. Juur, fully inhabiting her Patsy Stone-meets-David Byrne persona (what a power couple! Absolutely Fabulous ice queen mixed with jittery misfit) sings, while Brown supplies a mirage of beats and synths.
It's not as if Juur has never taken her alter ego to the club before (and strange things are still happening in her room) but they were preludes to this full-length adventure. Her 2011 Noble Savage 12'' contained a tale of dancefloor melancholy that described her label's aesthetic perfectly. On 'Disko Bliss' her voice arrived through a candyfloss haze, as she sang 'I'm going to the disco all alone… and now I'm dancing with myself', while mummified Larry Levan percussion and some slurred horns slipped around her. That sly misspelling was a big clue. 100% Silk and recent Not Not Fun releases have specialised in disko not 'disco' - sloppily (which doesn't mean 'badly') choreographed, paying playful and perverse homage to a sleeker, wealthier original. A mad love for this exuberant music and its many children is obvious. This isn't some 'disco sucks' mockery (Juur's YouTube favourites include Unique's 'You Make Me Feel So Good'), and neither does it stop at blank pastiche.
Like Cindy Sherman's photographs, Juur's records, from their lyrics and artwork to their beat, perform a complicated, acutely critical activity. They take a model of club culture that's all about female sexiness (and male arousal), perfection and opulence and gleefully undermine it. What was slick becomes messy, palatial track-space shrinks down into a crowded cupboard, lo-fi bugs bite and purr and vocals remain defiantly drowsy. Interviewed in The Wire recently, Juur summed up this mischievous strategy: "There's a lot of sex in my music, but it's pre-hormonal, it's juvenile and a bit out there". Polymorphous perversity rules over mature, 'proper' behaviour (another YouTube favourite: 50 Cent and Lil' Kim's 'Wanna Lick')… Maria Minerva is an awkward, curious version of the R&B starlet, desire ever so slightly askew - "cool but undesired", as Juur put it.
Even so, there are moments on The Integration LP that almost cross the threshold into 'real' disco. It starts murkily as usual, as if, like Donna Summer sang, "from the next apartment, we hear music / bleeding through the scene" where a party staggers on, but then everything slides out of soft-focus and sharpens up. A Marshall Jefferson pulse thumps away, fat Phuture bass hopscotches through the dark and a delicious bit of garage piano glides over the top, high above. Juur's voice drifts in on a hallucinatory breeze, all echo and no body, like Inga Copeland on a diet of Valium and champagne. Forty five minutes of this would be a dream, a record of girls run amok through Twice as Nice, scattering pearls. It's almost the pinnacle of the 100% Silk sound: a spaced-out approximation of a club hit with a real seductive undercurrent, like a cover of a lost Joyce Sims 12'' with a luxurious past life.
But this momentum can't be maintained and the record settles into a rhythm of intermittent greatness. On 'Seasons Change', everything falls back into the bedroom where "the silence around me/ is driving me insane/ I look outside my window/ and everything's the same". Minerva joins a long cast of boys and girls longing for escape of any kind from what Morrissey at his most wounded called 'life as a back-bedroom casualty'. Unlike Morrissey, Brown was desperate to go out to clubs, even if, like in 'How Soon Is Now?' she had to perform the routine of going, standing, dancing with herself and leaving on her own. Swooning over Bjork, R&B and trip-hop while everyone around her immersed themselves in the wasteland of grunge, she was decidedly alone.
For Juur, the bedroom has always seemed a more hopeful place, somewhere for studied withdrawal and self-fashioning. On Tallinn At Dawn she paid tribute to Ariel Pink by sampling his excited babbling about "bedroom rock & roll" and her best known track remains 'Strange Things Are Happening In My Room', hymning the space (wherever it is) where she makes her records and videos, in between hunting for magic tracks.
But getting carried away is The Integration LP's task. In an interview with FACT Brown said, "I get very carried away by dance music… it elevates me, puts me in a trance, makes me feel a bit out of my body or head." 'Supercool' exults in this state, praising the familiar feeling where "my body becomes the DJ's tool… this beat is driving me mad!" But the beat is almost disembodied, and the mood throughout remains subdued, even though rapture is meant to be taking place. After a while, you crave a little mania, a touch of what Bjork located in jungle - "fierce, fierce joy" - that tears through the track as if it can barely contain its ecstasy. There's a too much bliss and not enough chaos. The unwavering airiness of Juur's voice can be fatiguing, too. (Perhaps she should try a blank sort of rap, aping Debbie Harry's bored hyena performance on 'Rapture').
One of the unheralded pleasures of the record comes on the staggered exit of 'The Immoral Mr. Tease'. A velvety vocal floats away through an echo unit as a phantom soul singer calls out from a nighttime rooftop, with everything around coated in an eerie texture that makes synths sound like thunder in the ear. Last year's Streetwise 12'', a collaboration between Brown and Ital, remains the record to beat, the marvel in the catalogue, with its deformed pop elegance, lysergic stickiness and all over toxic climate. Integration in its entirety doesn't quite reach those heights, but 'A Lover & A Friend' ends everything on a supreme peak. A telephone monologue from a lovesick Minerva ("you broke my heart, too… you didn't pick up") wanders over a propulsive shimmer and giddy Mr. Fingers hook. These surroundings slowly slip away, leaving her voice in mid-air, before soon fading, too. A choir of ecstatic voices swoop in - think of the 'White Lines' singers set at permanent, gorgeous high - majestic strings at the edges, an acid spiral sparking against smooth piano and comforting low-end. End-of-the-night, edge-of-the-morning delirium is reached and that moment of trance takes over, stretching out in regal splendour. Then, slowly all the atmospheric glitter transforming into rainfall, fantasia just fading out. Disco bliss.