One of the key ingredients sprinkled throughout Amanda Brown’s Not Not Fun label is a hankering to drive forward, uninterrupted — not necessarily in the direction of the latest musical underground pizzazz, but en route to a space where she sees herself most comfortable at any given moment. Due to the nature of her work, this is frequently ramified by whatever demo she has been paying the most attention to, the recent slew of movies she has seen, or the efforts of particular practitioners who trigger favorable emotive responses. These factors, combined with a perfectionist air and a seemingly natural edge, is what has led to some striking releases of great intrigue, in addition to a distinctive set of collaborations since the instigation of this artful entrepreneur’s LA Vampires moniker.
As the co-founder of both NNF and its idiosyncratic house-infused offshoot 100% Silk, Brown began releasing material as LA Vampires back in 2010, with a split EP involving gothic-pop extraordinaire Zola Jesus and later with a vinyl release featuring Matrix Metals. An evolution in style compared with the now defunct Pocahaunted outfit, LA Vampires quickly emerged as a platform for Brown to develop ideas as an artist working at her own pace, without the persistent strain of band members wishing to chase sugar-coated 1960s surf-rock ambitions. This fresh project became a vessel for exploring new ideas through collaboration with either newfangled talent she found interesting or those who “exemplified brilliance” in one way or another.
In September 2012, NNF issued their third release by Estonian pop enthusiast Maria Minerva. Will Happiness Find Me? is a crisp avant-pop affair recorded at a makeshift Lisbon studio in between leaving Talin, completing an MA in Aural and Visual Cultures at Goldsmith’s University of London, and relocating to New York City. Not one to be constricted by a singular venture, Minerva has discussed the random assemblage of her tracks, over which she embosses her vocals as a means of making them her own. This exemplifies a considerable departure from the intricacy of the LA Vampires technique, though both approaches share a tendency to twist previous influences in spangled directions as opposed to drawing from them directly: Brown with music and labels, Minerva with projects both artistic and academic.
Their alliance comes as small surprise then, particularly after Minerva’s 100% Silk tour across Europe, Australia, and North America; in fact, this partnership seemed unavoidable from the outset. Less predictable, however, were the ghostly 2-step disco numbers that make up The Integration LP, which could easily be filed under feigned 80s pop revival categories in an attempt to illustrate similarities with the likes of Donna Summer or perhaps even Banarama, but that would bare little fruit by the sheer virtue of the artists’ apparent impulse to continue moving forward. Only the slightest interest is exemplified here in seeking inspiration from past recordings for aesthetic rehashing; what motivates these young women is the collective opportunity to pull on creative qualities, in forging sounds they both enjoy regardless of any familiar styles or tropes that might be otherwise extrapolated.
The result is a smokey disco fog that wraps itself around every one of these well-crafted anti-homage pop emanations, house tunes that glide and slither among the siren-like vocal compromise at which these blossoming musicians arrive. Hushed and wispy vocals halfheartedly flirt with climbing synths and downtempo club percussion on “I Fear Thy Kisses,” a song that seems fated for late-night swooning somewhere at around 5 AM on a worn and sweaty dance floor; it sets the mood for the rest of the album, which shares a similar disposition while clinging to each singer’s zany pop tendencies. The track bears a candid resemblance to the catchy groove of “Alien In My Heart,” which is tugged across vocal echo and accordion geared synth repetition, while the distant pump and clamor of “Desire Desire” pits ecstatic moans and humming with high-pitched noodling and a persistent rhythm that would easily slot amid any of the giddy end-game club-night tracks that come before it.
What makes The Integration LP a pleasing collaboration, however, is an apparent agreement in desired outcome. While both Brown and Minerva share keen aspirations to continue with electronic music exploration, the format they have chosen here allows them an easy escape hatch: there is no commitment other than to the songs they have created together. As a consequence of that acknowledgement, each number remains concise, pensive, and embracing, with only subtle diversions in style and approach. This points to a synthesis in collective determination, as opposed to the birth of a brand spanking new outfit. As accomplished and catchy as the album is, it sounds as though the artists have left themselves with hardly any room to breathe.
That mild dose of suffocation comes with a deliberate sense of ambivalence carried by the nature of the collaboration. The chosen aesthetic is an embodiment of fondness for styles both artists expose in their music, along with situations they find themselves in on tour, not to mention the consequential tiredness and exhaustion that come as a backlash of their productivity. What remains on their collective debut is a batch of well-polished, burgeoning, and tripped-out disco renditions, methodically uncompromising and a perfect soundtrack to the closing hours of your weekend.