Estonian artist Maria Minerva meets this darn year with her synthpop album "Soft Power". Between melancholy and euphoria.
Ideal soundtrack for outdoor club conversations: Minerva’s new album Photo: Peter Tomka
"Hey pretty baby / It’s been a while" – Maria Minerva doesn’t keep quiet about her six-year absence for long. Rather, she greets listeners of her new album "Soft Power" quite offensively; her vocals are cuddled by a slightly droning organ, the two closed hi-hat cymbals, which are all the more swinging for it, and feisty synthesizer accents.
When Maria Juur, Estonian Maria Minerva’s real name, last appeared on Tableau, it was 2014 and the world wasn’t quite as out of joint as it is right now. However, the history of electronic dance music has always been marked by the divergence between joy and sorrow, by the interplay of major and minor, of euphoria and depression.
Maria Minerva knows exactly about this circumstance: in 2016 she lost her US artist colleague Cherushii, who died in a devastating fire. The two shared an intimate friendship, as Minerva recalls in the online magazine Resident Advisor: after releasing four albums between 20 on the hip Los Angeles label Not Not Fun, Minerva set out to complete a U.S. tour.
Due to the long distances between performance venues, such trips are costly. Her labelmate Cherushii nevertheless offered to be her support act, tour guide and helpful colleague.
Coming to terms with grief after painful loss
The road trip ended with Minerva’s move to Los Angeles, moreover, it came to artistic cooperation – which ended abruptly on December 2, 2016 in Oakland. A fire broke out at a party organized by her label Not Not Fun in a warehouse used as an artists’ commune and techno club. The building, called "Ghost Ship," had no fire safety precautions; 36 people died that night, including Chelsea Faith Dolan, aka Cherushii.
For those who ask why nothing was heard from musician Maria Minerva for a long time, here is the answer: in 2019, in a process of mourning that lasted almost three years, Maria Minerva completed that then-planned collaborative album with Cherushii. Only after the completion of this consoling work – and a move from L. A. to New York – did the Estonian feel able to perform as a soloist again. Almost unannounced and away from the loud noise of the promotion business, she finally releases "Soft Power".
October 2020 is probably not the best moment to release new dancefloor fodder in the darned pandemic year. With a few exceptions, all the clubs are closed or misappropriated as museums – there’s little prospect of relaxation anytime soon. Instead of energetic house sound, "Soft Power" seems more appropriate for living room enjoyment. On the other hand, the music doesn’t really want to fit in there either.
Although Minerva masters wistful electronic tapestries like hardly anyone else, especially her unpracticed vocal performance underlines this Calabasas melancholy all the more. Overall, the eight new tracks, which sometimes sound synth-poppy, sometimes wavy, then again house-affine, spread euphoria. It is not forbidden to appeal to better times with music.
Timeless pop dancefloor sound
Nevertheless, Maria Minerva’s long break from art is noticeable – and not only because of the anti-cyclical release strategy. Her popdancefloor sound displays a strangely enraptured timelessness. Away from (micro-)trends and retromanic nineties rumination, "Soft Power" seems stuck in the early tens.
So the lo-fi drums on "Had Me at Hello" and the synth hookline of "I Could Be Your Best Friend," the straight-up Debbie Harry reference "Down Low (Motor City You Make Me Wanna)" and the rousing (fake) piano house hit "Apology" certainly provide invigorating impulses for future dance nights.
"Soft Power" is the ideal soundtrack for outdoor club conversations that don’t end until the sun rises and then sets; of slightly "sticky" come-togethers between hangover breakfasts and counter champagne; in short: of happier times. In a normal year, "Soft Power" would possibly have failed, stamped "outdated". In crazy 2020, however, it’s an effective reminder of a life before the pandemic; touching, naive, and always mood-lifting.
Maria Minerva: "Soft Power" (Not Not Fun/Import).
The recent bad news that Minerva, her husband, the equally talented producer Nick Malkin, and parts of their family have tested positive for Covid-19 unfortunately fits the picture of a time that simply won’t let such beautiful moments as this simple electronic pop music stand.