John Maus - Screen Memories

by Sean Hewson Rating:8 Release Date:2017-10-27
John Maus - Screen Memories
John Maus - Screen Memories

It has been six years since John Maus last released new material but now there is a flurry of activity from him. First up is Screen Memories, a brand new album. This will be followed next year by a vinyl box set of all his albums plus a second brand new album called Addendum.

The Combine features a bewildering chord pattern played on '80s synths and bass. Occasionally a bell is struck. The time signature is sometimes altered when the odd extra beat thrown in to keep us on our toes. All in all it is a mesmerising subversion of '80s synth clich├ęs whilst also being in thrall to them. A similarly meandering chord progression played on synths, bass and drum machine begins Teenage Witch. Like most of the album, it sits somewhere in between Synth-Pop, The Berlin School and something entirely of Maus's own devising. Maybe with a bit of Crackdown-era Cabaret Voltaire thrown in. Touchdown, as it's title suggests, is about American Football. The synths here are a bit more twinkly, the drums a bit more syncopated and there is a touch of John Carpenter in the arpeggiated synth lines. A very Goth bass line starts Walls of Silence. The synth sounds are wonderfully cheap on this, very much at the budget end of the Casio range. Find Out is a more overdriven beast with guitar to the fore. This gives it a bit more of a New Wave feel, similar to early Ultravox! in its urgency. Electric Dreams is brought to mind by the synth arpeggios on Decide Decide and it is close to being a ballad. The vocals throughout the album wander in and out of the songs and are not intended to take all the focus. The kind of snatched style of Maus's singing, and his use of effects, remind me of Arthur Russell and Alan Vega. Edge of Forever features a confusing bass line and is another song that is seemingly 80s Synth-Pop whilst simultaneous being a really odd song. I said earlier that this felt like a subversion of existing pop forms but it might be more instinctive than that - it might just be that John Maus writes really weird songs.

The People Are Missing has the feel of an 80s film soundtrack but also something of John Foxx in the vocal delivery, there's even a bit of Andrew Eldritch in there. The depressingly accurate observation that 'your pets are gonna die' is the main lyric in Pets which may also be the most straight Synth-Pop song here although it is still plain bizarre, as Iggy might say. Sensitive Recollections sounds like a tribute to Mute records - a collaboration between early-Depeche Mode and Nick Cave. An urgent bass line starts Over Phantom and the drum machine sounds sped up. Again, there is a Goth side to this, a particularly frenetic Goth side. However, the twists and turns towards the end of the track suggest Prog Rock.

Screen Memories closes with Bombs Away, which starts with another brilliant bass line. It's possibly the most 'normal' song here but the vocals are still heavily reverbed, delayed and weird,
Like Robert Pollard, John Maus writes very odd songs and presents them in a recognisably pop way. In an era where every new show on Netflix has a Retro-Futuristic 80s soundtrack we need genuine mavericks like John Maus who can keep the format fresh. He's one of those rare finds who can simultaneously be very Pop and also Avant-Garde. This has been my first encounter with his work. There will be more.

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