If we’re to believe folklore, not to mention any number of popular narratives, a love spell is the most dangerous kind to work with. Attempting to use supernatural powers to shape the world to one’s personal desires may be a gray zone, but manipulating the emotions of others would seem to verge onto the darker side of the spectrum. Given Maria Minerva’s 90s propensities, on her new EP, one might imagine her as Fairuza Balk going too far in The Craft or Willow Rosenberg ensorcelling armies of the enamored in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, though, on the EP’s first and single-est track, “Black Magick,” Minerva is the victim of a spell whose lineage runs though Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” to Robert Johnson’s deal at the crossroads: “Boy what you do to me is black magic/ I die every night in your arms.”
Black magic may be that which harms or that which inverts established religion: as well as exploring the dark arts, the EP in its title picks up on the holier side of spirituality, building thematically on 2011’s Sacred and Profane Love. On Bless, then, as in Minerva’s other work, an overarching theme of some depth is contrasted with lyrics that re-stage the typical lovelorn tropes of popular music — though there is sometimes a twist in the tail (“You cut me in half, you didn’t put me together again”).
One area in which Minerva’s supernatural talents are apparent is in her prolificity (even if she’s far from hitting the output of artists like Dominick Fernow or Motion Sickness of Time Travel): Bless emerges on the back of two 2012 full-lengths, Will Happiness Find Me? overshadowing her standout piece with LA Vampires, The Integration. There is a definite charm to the whimsical fertility with which this material bubbles and spreads, yet one wonders whether it is half-formed. But is that the point? And should we read this as a postmodern proliferation of technology and consequently content, or a return to the era of the 7-inch recorded in a single session? The sketch-like quality of Minerva’s work is delighting and frustrating in equal measure — and sometimes delighting through frustration, that enticingly tantalizing sense of grasping after something that never quite materializes, of being held under the spell of a fugacious personality rather than a solid (stolid?) “artwork.”
On Bless, “Black Magick” emerges as the pop-attuned hook, while pieces like “Space 4 U” — which builds a drifting, unreliable, skeletal architecture wending its way over a sample lauding “the power of healing” — need time to emerge. This territory is mercurial in the sense that, depending on the listener’s mood, it enchants or seems substanceless. It’s 90s house slowed and throwed through a veil of static; just when you’re thinking of leaving the dancefloor to head to the bar, the cowbell kicks in. Meanwhile, as she’s done before, Minerva uses sampling on “Soul Searchin” to parody both her own background in theory and the lifeworld in which her work floats: namely, alt-stand-up George Carlin’s spoken-word routine “Modern Man,” encapsulating the contemporary condition from neoliberalism to the new age. Is black magic the only way for the Modern Woman to find her soul? On that question, Minerva’s justly content to let you drift…