With 2006’s Songs and 2007’s Love is Real, John Maus broke out of the collaborative clay of Ariel Pink, but retained his shape-shifting quality. With his solo records, especially his latest LP, We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves, he has incorporated some New Wave signposts, with a little melancholy disco, constantly refining what might be the right kind of landscape for his deeply yearning, compelling vocal.
In some ways his closest reference point is probably Arthur Russell who went from the strains of mournful cello on Love Has Overtaken Me to helping create the sound of New York’s disco underground, and there is some of that fearless creativity within Maus, also sharing a classical sensibility amidst excitement about the possibilities presented within electronic music. Holding pop music as an anchor, Maus filters elements of the best kind of synth pop, nodding to Giorgio Moroder where possible, and he creates a sense of the gothic about the entire record, it’s as if Mr. Rochester has found a Roland Jupiter 8 synth in the attic, along with Bertha.
“Streetlight” begins with a darting, searching synth that seeps deep into Maus’ reverb-soaked vocal, before moving on to the bass guitar-heavy “Quantum Leap”, which brings to mind Ian Curtis at his most raw and affecting. What is most interesting about the record is that just when you think you have a handle on him, he shifts, as on “…And the Rain” where the drum machine breaks like faulty artillery into a sea of ideas; eerie choral noise, soaring holy synths, and a mumbling that becomes like a meditation until you reach “and the rain came down-down, down, down” which neatly explains the insistent creativity of the album.
One of the highlights of the record involves a change of pace, “Hey Moon” is a beautiful kind of lullaby, where Molly Nilsson (who originally wrote the song) duets with Maus, mapping out the mystery of the night sky, and our mesmerizing consequence in this world. Yet unsettling terrain is never too far away, whether through the swirling psychedelic “The Crucifix” or the creepy swerving “Cop Killer”, Maus succeeds in discomfiting the listener, but in the most joyful way (see the closing track “Believer”). Perhaps this is part of his charm, he creates softly romantic but menacing pop music, and with memorable melodies (particularly on this record), becomes a Pied Piper, leading us to a land where Wicker Man meets Blade Runner, nature meets industry, and past meets the future.