Maria Juur is a poker-faced woman of letters. Better known as Maria Minerva, her soulful productions are smart and self consciously silly, referencing cultural theory and her personal boudoir of sound clips. In her video for “Strange Things Happening in My Room,” Juur faces her computer and audience, coyly demanding attention. A photograph of feminist theorist Avital Ronell blinks in and out before a Hillary Clinton sound bite interrupts Juur. “Making change is not about what you believe,” Clinton snarls, “it is about working hard.” In the YouTube description, Juur introduces the clip as the “WORLD’s most retarded music video.”
Having set up camp in Amsterdam, Juur explains her temporary office. “At the moment, I’m in someone’s bed that I met three hours ago. It’s super nice. He made me food and I’m really happy.” Born in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, Juur traveled to Holland from Lisbon, where she’s on break from her master’s program at Goldsmiths University of London. “I have a long way to go to say I’m actually from London. I’m coming and going,” she says. It’s easy to imagine her taking temporary residence in a parade of strange beds; a disco-loving scholar flying cheap, arriving with a suitcase and asking, “What’s the wifi password?”
In 2011, 23-year-old Juur released four collections of dirty and drowsy pop songs, each better than the last. Three of these, her debut cassette Tallinn at Dawn, the Noble Savage EP and an LP, Cabaret Cixious, are the fruits of playful, plodding laptop experiments that began in London while Juur was a summer intern at highbrow music mag The Wire and continued to be a welcomed distraction through her last year of art school in Estonia. On their acid sea of quick-triggered chords and brittle drums, Juur’s oil-and-honey slicked singing looms close, warm in your ear.
Although her voice is sweet, what she’s singing about can take on a darker context. “I find myself writing the most stupid lyrics possible. The things people always think about, I sing about. Maybe I’m just a pervert as a human being.” Repurposing the sexy babble of pop queens, Juur rescues kernels of bliss and tests their shape. When she repurposes ABBA’s honey honey, nearly kill me or Britney Spears’ baby don’t you wanna dance up on me to another time and place, or her own put me on the floor, push me against the door, it’s hard to tell where her bald-faced honesty about her own desire and desperation ends and the saccharine clichés begin.
Juur’s Sacred and Profane Love EP, released at the close of last year, is proof of her rapid maturation as a producer. Recorded two weeks after her grandmother’s death, the album is a pool of gloomy energy transformed on an imaginary, new-world dance floor, whimsical in a way that’s something like, as Juur says, “putting on a good face when you’re having a bad day.” She hopes her next project, to be recorded in a studio and slated for summer, will sound bombastic enough for massive soundsystems. Are the sugar-rush clubs actually ready for Maria Minerva, strange goddess of groove and rhythm? With their manic, rough edges, maybe her ballads are a rational adjustment to a world that just keeps getting weirder.
Stream: Maria Minerva, Cabaret Cixous