Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves" by John Maus

Released June 28, 2011 on Upset The Rhythm

Let's clear the air a little first: this album is weird. There's no other way to put it, it's just weird. Then again, that probably should have been expected from John Maus given his repertoire; Maus has been a frequent collaborator with Animal Collective's Panda Bear and freak-folk legend Ariel Pink, so he's clearly no stranger to strange music. We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves is the third full-length solo effort from the Minnesota native, and plays like a well thought-out, polished tribute to 80s synth pop. Maus loads each song with familiar spacey sounds and does so with an authentic analog charm. The synth work is absolutely astonishing: rich and textured, catchy, and endlessly replayable. Songs range from upbeat radio pop to slow, eerie ballads, with the occasional 2-minute burst of a noise jam.
The one thing it took me a while to get used to was Maus' bizarre, occasionally off-putting vocals. Crooning low and ominously, reminiscent of a cartoon supervillain, John's voice is so bogged down by reverb/delay/pitch change/etc. that it's oftentimes an exercise in frustration just to comprehend him. That can be a shame, because when you finally grow to understand the effects-laden melodies, you're treated to moments of powerful introspection and poetic beauty, most notably in the album's pinnacle track "Hey Moon". Some songs feature lyrics that are just outright insane (the aptly titled "Cop Killer", which as it turns out is not an Ice-T cover), and some just come off as nonsensical mumbling ("The Crucifix"). Still, I believe I ended up enjoying the album more as a whole because of the fleeting nature of the vocals; Maus seems to incorporate the post-rock idea of using the voice more as its own instrument than a delivery system for lyrics, and this is no one takes away from the fact that this is just a fun album to listen to. Anyone who's ever enjoyed any cheesy 80s radio hits will find something to love here, and John Maus has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with in modern day synth pop.

This is not an album you will love right away. I'll admit, I didn't really know what to expect going in after hearing the lovable first single "Believer" (still one of the album's highlights) and was less than impressed at first. Give this album a few listens with an open mind, however, and you'll keep coming back and finding more to love with each listen.

Rating: 8.3/10
Standout Tracks: "Hey Moon" "Believer"  "Keep Pushing On"

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