John Maus - We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2011-07-11

Can I be the first to coin the phrase dark chillwave, please? It seems a pretty apt way to describe much of the music on this wonderfully titled third album from political philosophy lecturer Maus. Tracks such as 'We Can Break Through' and 'Believer' have that mid-80s MOR-plus-lysergic nostalgia vibe which permeates so much chillwave, but with an added layer of goth-in-a-wind-tunnel posing which would do The Damned's Dave Vanian proud. It all makes for a sometimes strange but very fun listen.

Maus seems to have drawn inspiration from post-punk, proto-synth-pop weirdos such as The Normal, John Foxx and early Human League. 'Cop Killer' (not, alas, a synth-goth cover of the Body Count classic) sounds like an existential crisis in a Philip K Dick dystopia. Like most of the songs here, it hovers impressively just on the right side of ridiculous. There's also plenty here which resembles the output of Catholic, the recently unearthed side-project of disco super-producer Patrick Cowley which mixed punk and synth-pop before either became mainstream.

The only problem with We Must Become... is that it doesn't really feel like an album so much as a collection of perfectly turned-out pastiches. Individually, songs such as 'And the Rain' and 'Keep Pushing On' are swoon-inducingly great nuggets of leftfield pop, while 'The Crucifix' crams every Sisters of Mercy tic into one minute and 'Hey Moon' is a spot-on bit of Human League balladeering, balancing bored girl/boy vocals with a touching synth melody. But each track sounds like an complete exercise in itself, separate from the songs around it.

That aside, there's no denying what a strong collection of songs this is. Maus gets round any accusations of hackneyed 80s-revival bandwagon-jumping by sounding like he understands this music inside and out. We Must Become... is no La Roux style fashion pose, regurgitating verbatim past sounds because, hey, it's just another reference point. This album is more like a love letter to a whole host of musical oddballs who burned briefly but very brightly indeed.

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