Traditional opener: “The Oxford English Dictionary defines histrionic as…” But Maria Minerva’s always perverting traditions as she embodies them, creating faux etymologies and lineages that are more satisfying than their originating reality in the electronic genres of the 80s and 90s — realities that in any case can only be recreations, which are always already lost.
Continuing her tradition of mad girl love songs, then, her new album is hyst- as much as histrionic — pertaining not only to the actor’s theatrics, but to the body’s fictional vagaries. There’s another transition in the title: “for me this marks the end of my histrionic era (ages 15-25:) )” — as well as the fruits of her global dislocation Stateside. As ever, Minerva is caught in various productive tensions, symptomatic of her (our) milieu.
Another of these is her location somewhere between the popularist and the avant-garde: “I’ve been involved in the experimental music scene for a long time, but I can’t get over just making songs.” On Histrionic, the poppier moments work best — opener “The Beginning,” the catchily mournful “Runaway,” and the Laurie-Anderson-esque spoken-word dance beats of “Wolves and Lambs.” Like Anderson’s, Minerva’s palette is immediately identifiable and unique, her songs gorgeous miniatures — aural Fabergé eggs laid by Bizarro World geese in silver rather than gold. Her wonkily retroconditioned, micro-tectonic, frosty pads and beats cry coyly to be listened to through a decent system to reveal the true contours of their maps of intimacy. On her Facebook page, Minerva may lament the lack of subtlety in pop music since the days of Paula Abdul, but she’s also a sucker for the hooky gesture, and both tendencies are in evidence here.
Speaking of Facebook, Minerva’s an artist whose online persona is relatively unmediated and personal — a cool-yet-fervid digital humanity that also characterizes her music. On “Endgame,” she quotes Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield’s “What Have I Done To Deserve This,” turning their statement of arch-yet-bewildered dedication and the realpolitik economics of love (“I bought you drinks, I brought you flowers, I read your books and talked for hours”) into a hypnotically repetitive, unnerving yet somehow humorous refrain.
As with Minerva’s earlier work, her lyrics, at least on the romantic songs that form the majority here (pace her evisceration of the “underground”), tend toward a tissue of pop clichés, but it remains impossible to know whether this is a purposeful tribute to pop history or perhaps a conscious choice related to form. That the question arises is a telling point about Minerva’s mystique, and the psychoanalytic thoughtfulness underlying her pared-down psychedelia:
The problem with songs is that they have to be about yearning. Either you’re yearning for the Friday night, or you’re yearning for someone’s affection, but it’s always about the missing element. The primary emotions around that feeling of lack.
As such, while some moments are straightforwardly amorous, the album also features more complex reflections, as on “Wolves and Lambs’s” mytho-poetic analysis of “the one.”
Histrionic’s final track is named after Estonian author Karl Ristikivi’s modernist novel Hingede öö (All Souls’ Night), featuring “a strange waiting room scene where the protagonist appears to be in limbo between two countries, unable to proceed, unable to return.” If the inbetween-ness of Histrionic represents such a waiting room, the muzak-as-furniture is a Le Corbusier chaise longue, the inhabitants half-aware of its virtuality and therefore always almost falling, yet still forever unpacking their dreams and fantasies on Minerva’s couch.