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John Maus

John Maus is a truly enigmatic musician. He has transformed the cold minimalism of synth-pop into a cloak of infinite meaning, genuine grace and absurd humor, which he has presented on three albums since 2006.

John Maus – John Maus auf dem Roskilde Festival 2018

John Maus – John Maus auf dem Roskilde Festival 2018

The music of John Maus is a highly changeable affair. Although often described as retro-futuristic due to the 80s drum machines and synthesizer sounds used, John's music is more personal than the nostalgic repetition might suggest. His songs have a cinematic quality, with pathos evoked by driving bass lines, dragging arpeggios and, of course, his deeply resonant voice. Moroder has mapped out the terrain, but Maus is more interested in finding a cadence with his love of Renaissance polyphony and post-punk experimentation. It is a fusion of musical ideas that is as radical as its intention.

Maus is a "man out of time" trying to make sense of the inhumanity of our world by using the language of punk rock. His aim is right, because he strives for the seemingly impossible. It is the desire to emerge, to appear, to become, to connect as part of a greater diversity that drives his songs and himself.

Twelve years have now passed since the highly acclaimed album We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves (2011) was released like a bolt of insane energy and turned everyone's head. Now regarded as an experimental pop classic, Pitiless Censors marked Maus' major breakthrough as a recognized artist and led to a comprehensive reassessment of his work to date. The debut album Songs (2006) and the masterful follow-up Love Is Real (2007) sounded better than ever to this new following the second time around. After touring the world with Pitiless Censors and compiling a collection of rarities and unreleased tracks, Maus returned to academia. In 2014, he was awarded a PhD in political philosophy for his dissertation on communication and control. Shortly after, he began building his own modular synthesizer, etching the circuit boards, soldering components and assembling panels until he had an instrument that matched his vision. After completing this daunting task, Maus turned back to songwriting and began work on what is now his fourth album, Screen Memories (2017).

Screen Memories was written, recorded and produced by Maus over the past few years at his home in Minnesota, commonly known as Funny Farm. It's a lonely place in the corn plains of the rural American Midwest. The landscape is as majestic as it is barren, and inevitably something of the winter's sub-zero temperatures creeps into the songs, as do the buzzing wasps of summer. Screen Memories unfolds like a pageant with a multitude of songs that offer sunshine and shade throughout. "The Combine" leads the procession with an apocalyptic grandeur that is second to none. Chord clusters flit back and forth between the solid rhythm track and artfully struck bells. "It's going to dust us all to nothing, man" intones Maus confidently, "I see the combine coming". Tracks like "Sensitive Recollections" and "Walls of Silence" are bursting with the elegiac splendor we've come to expect from Maus' previous work, melancholy yet full of redemption. Find Out", on the other hand, is a sustained thrill-ride of guitar histrionics and preachy demands amidst the stuttering drum machines.

"Over Phantom" channels a similar perpetual energy with its hyperactive shifts in harmony and grand flourishes of swirling echo. "I'm a phantom over the battlefield" booms Maus for miles over the vast fields of shimmering, bright melody. Many of John's lyrics follow this Spartan approach, but their repetition throughout the song holds up, their meaning shifting with the repetition. "Teenage Witch" and "Pets" employ a similar tactic, with the latter pairing one of John's most whimsical lyrics with a colossal bass figure that connects to the song as a whole through forgotten thematic devices like augmentation, stretto and inversion.

The lyrics at the end of the track underline the eschatological orientation of the album: "standing between time and its end". In "Decide Decide", Maus finds himself in dreamier realms. The arrangement of drums and exquisitely swirling keyboard lines tumble evocatively into vast oceans of ambient. Comparable quixotic synth drifts also appear on "Edge Of Forever", and the song sounds as if it has been beamed over from a distant celestial sphere. "Touchdown", meanwhile, is a great example of how Maus builds anxiety in his songs, it's a focused anthem with sparkling keys and a monumental beat. The tension is only interrupted once, for a decidedly exuberant interlude in which Maus calls out "Forward over the line!". That same heart-racing feeling is also present in the tense track "The People Are Missing" (the only condition on which any real politics can be built), which captures some of the intensity and passion of John's frantic live performances.

Runtime: Thu, 26/09/2024 to Fri, 27/09/2024

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