Sometime Ariel Pink cohort, and an undoubted forefather of the chillwave phenomenon, John Maus has just released his new album We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves on the evergreen independent label Upset The Rhythm.
Isn’t it great when someone you really want to like is actually someone you really do like? Because if John Maus wasn’t as good as he actually is, I would be seriously pissed off that someone else had nicked my idea of doing for synth-pop what Portishead have done for spy soundtracks and torch songs. Even moreso than Ariel Pink, Nite Jewel or anyone else on the haunted-call-it-what-you-like-scene John Maus seriously ticks my boxes. For the uninitiated, it’s pretty simple. Maus takes synth-pop and squeezes it through a lo-fi, shoegazey filter until it comes out the other side dripping in an unreal atmosphere. Imagine OMD on 33rpm, or the soundtrack to a long forgotten 80s art film you saw on cable one night, multiply it to the power of a bongs-and-mushrooms trip, and you’re nearly there. It’s so spectral it’s as if you have dreamt it before. In fact maybe I didn’t invent this idea and it’s all just aural deja-vu.
Fans of Maus’ previous work won’t be disappointed with We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves. In it he retains all the core values of his last album, the officially awesome Love Is Real, but now the sound and the songs have had a wee tightening up. But don’t worry yourselves with thoughts of “sellout” - where before the lo-fi nature of the recordings created a dank haze the listener had to aurally peer through, this new, slightly more clean approach gives room for the individual parts to breath. Being able to distinguish them in the mix in no way detracts from their shimmering nature and actually adds to their power. There are less tracks than before, and the running time is just over half an hour. There is little over-indulgence here - and that is a very good thing. From the Upset The Rhythm website:
Pitiless Censors’ as an album displays a more delicate touch than its predecessors. “Hey Moon” is John’s first duet, performed with Molly Nilsson, who originally wrote the song. It’s a serene elegy that subtly weaves an impression of nocturnal loneliness and romantic dreams.
Closing track “Believer” is equally evocative with its bells, choral soaring and echoing sentiment. Of course, a John Maus album wouldn’t be a John Maus album without the same anthemic genius and dark humour that we’ve seen previously with songs like “Maniac” and “Rights For Gays” and this new album finds its succour in “Cop Killer”. The eerie waltz-time offspring of Body Count’s controversial 90s protest track, it is dystopian, bleak and ridiculous and, in short, classic Maus.
Unlike the last two albums, ‘Pitiless Censors’ looks towards the future in all its absurdity. It’s a record where promise takes the lead for the first time, providing a counterpoint to John’s default existential calling. The cover of “Pitiless Censors” depicts an airbrushed lighthouse, thrashed by wave after wave, bringing to mind Beckett’s quote “Unfathomable mind: now beacon, now sea.”
And one final thought - the slightly grandiloquent title undoubtedly has a proper explanation (Maus is a philosophy professor) but maybe it’s also a subconscious pitch to have his music featured in the work of Adam Curtis? It’s definitely worth a shot, as the two would go beautifully together.
John Maus - “Believer” (available for free download here)
John Maus - “Cop Killer”
John Maus - “Matter Of Fact”
John Maus - “Keep Pushing On”
You can pre-order We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves on vinyl from Upset The Rhythm. For more info on John Maus,visit this page.