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Album Review: John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

Posted by on 30 September 2015

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I will be posting album reviews to the blogs page around once or twice a week depending on my schedule. I’d also love to take suggestions from you guys on what to review, so please leave me comments. I don’t limit my reviews by genre or age so anything goes. I have a generally positive rating system and it is as follows:

 

***** = Timeless Classic (An album that is personally significant to me that I can never imagine disliking at any point in my life. This is almost exclusive to albums that have been in my collection for a while, but on very rare occasions I might give it on first time listens.)

**** = Near Perfect (An album so impressive that it leaves me in a stunned silence upon completion. Almost no discernible flaws are present.)

*** = Amazing (An album that I will undoubtedly want to listen to over and over again. Flaws are minor and can be easily overlooked.)

** = Great (A thoroughly satisfying listen. There are 1-2 noticeable flaws that take away from the experience.)

* = Good (A mostly enjoyable listen. Several major flaws are evident and seriously detract from the experience.)

0 = Bad (Anything that can be considered good on the album is outweighed by the bad. As simple as that)

 

John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves (Synthpop, Electropop, Art Pop) [2011]

 

Being the keyboardist for two of the biggest names in Experimental and Art Pop (Panda Bear and Ariel Pink), John Maus had some expectations to live up to for me personally. The keyboards being such an integral element to the music of both the bands previously mentioned, I had no doubt in my mind that Maus must be quite a skilled player. I just had to hope that he would retain the same amounts of creativity, wit, and innovation in his solo work that made the other artists he had worked for so admired. And while Maus in a sense does exemplify many of the same characteristics as his Art Pop peers, his execution is questionable.

The most disappointing thing on this album is surely the keyboard playing, as surprising as that may seem. Maus is in no sense a bad player, he has a great handle on his instrument. The problem lies in the boring, derivative melodies that tend not to venture outside of what has been already done and perfected by Synthpop artists in the 80’s. Aside from a few moments of effects-laden vocals, the album was totally lacking of any fresh concepts. Now all of this could be fine if the songwriting was solid, but the album is filled with duds. Maus throws out many clunky and forgettable tracks that lack the pop sensibility that his other bands have successfully achieved. That isn’t to say that this album is totally void of expert songwriting. When Maus does manage to stumble upon a catchy hook or melody, the results are stupefying. Songs like “Quantum Leap” and “New Moon” would have been instant classics if released in the 80’s, rivaling the likes of Depeche Mode and The Human League. After hearing songs like those it leaves me craving more, and shows the potential Maus has as a solo artist.

While his songwriting is ultimately lack luster, much of the humor and wit observable in Ariel Pink is present in Maus’ lyrics. Songs like “Cop Killer”, though taking a dark atmosphere, are actually quite funny in a surreal kind of way. The lyrics “Cop Killer…Let’s kill those cops tonight.” are undeniably simplistic and amateurish, yet the seriousness in which Maus delivers them makes you just want to laugh out loud. The album is very obviously dripping in irony and surreal humor.

The production on this album is, again, similar to that on many of Ariel Pink’s releases. Maus strives for that vintage, lo-fi production quality that echoes the sounds of many 60’s recordings. Unfortunately at many points in the album this style does more to hurt than it does to help. While it gives the drum machine some unique flavor, it certainly does not do anything to assist the bass or synths which are left sounding weak and poorly mixed. The vocals as well tend to suffer as Maus has a significantly deeper and louder singing voice than Pink. This causes some audible crackle as the mic strains to pick up those lower frequencies. The production leaves this album feeling more like a set of demo tracks than a fully realized and developed record.

I would recommend this album to fans of Ariel Pink, Depeche Mode, The Human League, and Devo.

Favorite Track: New Moon

Rating: 0 (Bad)

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