Maria Minerva – Cabaret Cixous review

Having broken through with the cassette-only album Tallin At Dawn released via the on-point Not Not Fun label back in March, it’s clear the smudged out, backwards glancing sounds of East London dwelling Estonian Maria Minerva have found favour with Amanda Brown and her blossoming retro-futurist empire. A subsequent release early in the life of 100% Silk helped establish the blossoming momentum that the NNF offshoot currently revels in, and now Cabaret Cixous, Minerva’s eagerly anticipated second album, arrives on more traditional formats courtesy of Not Not Fun.

It’s certainly a good time to be looking back and garnering the soulful drones of 80s synth pop, but that means there’s no shortage of competition. As Cabaret Cixous whirrs into life, the name bouncing round this particular reviewer’s head is Hype Williams, a correlation that you can’t help but think many other listeners will be finding. As with most associations of this nature, it’s unfair to dismiss the music as one and the same, but it makes for an ideal reference point. The same ethereal, degraded quality presides over the music, while Maria’s vocals float in the distance with that same intentionally off-point mixing.

However, there’s a greater consistency and immediacy at work on Maria’s album than you find on the Hype Williams output. Even when the style shifts to something bordering on uptempo it all fits the narrative of the LP as a whole. “Laulan Paikse Kaes” comparatively bangs, six tracks deep into the album, with a filtered electro break battling and losing against its processing whilst ravey sun-kissed chords reverberate around a subtle, almost G-funk synth refrain.

Indeed, as the album progresses beats begin to emerge, and on “Soo High” a positive groove can be discerned amidst the metallic fuzz. Minerva’s vocal takes on an electro-pop kind of delivery, while a funky bassline permeates through the mix, but only just. If any kind of sonic clarity was achieved on the album it would sound at odds with everything else, but it’s this commitment to the sound that achieves the consistency.

The only time the smoke lifts to let all the elements shine through is on album closer “Ruff Trade” where Minerva’s vocal turn takes the lead on top of an understated and moody synth. By the time the track opens up into a soaring chorus of sorts, you could be forgiven for forgetting that most of the album swaggers and sways bleary-eyed through Minerva’s layers of sound. If you weren’t sold on Hype Williams, this certainly won’t change anything for you. If, however, you’re easily seduced by their wistful swathes of sound then you should definitely give Cabaret Cixous a whirl.

Oli Warwick