Hailing from Minnesota, John Maus shares a geographical heritage with such accomplished musicians as Bob Dylan and Prince. Amongst Maus’s growing cult following, some would hail him as an equivalent to said artists in terms of brilliance. Unlike Dylan and Prince, however, Maus sports a slight Minnesotan accent and a persona that has been erroneously likened to that of Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of the Rain Man; superficially, Maus’s persona reminds me more of Slavoj Žižek. Moreover, like Žižek, Maus has a background in Philosophy. Maus’s previous non-musical endeavours have included a postgraduate degree in Philosophy at a (dubious) Swiss institution known as the European Graduate School, and a position teaching “An Introduction to Political
theory” at a college in Hawaii.
Maus’s music sounds something like a combination of Ariel Pink, Panda Bear, and Neon Indian. (The comparison with the former pair is according given his previous association with both.) Maus’s instrumentals are combine 80‘s style electronic drum loops, evolving pads, and string synths; for the most part, they are pleasant retro style electronic compositions. However, Maus’s music lacks the sonic depth of Panda Bear, while not quite achieving the outright funkiness or dynamism of Ariel Pink’s recent work.
The first track on Maus’s latest album (We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves), released earlier this month, ‘Street Light’, hints at something like Panda Bear(or indeed Animal Collective). It is evident that Maus’s manipulation of sound never quite reaches the euphoric plateau, nor the outright melodic appeal of Animal
Collective’s ‘My Girls’, for example, despite being reliant on a similarly arpeggiated synth line. In a similar fashion, Maus’s second track, ‘Quantum Leap’ is reminiscent of Ariel Pink’s ‘Beverly Kills’, without capturing the same impressive musical depth and comedic funk.
However, this is simply a point of contrast, rather than criticism. John Maus’s vocal encapsulates something altogether distinct from these contemporaries. Maus’s vocal is placed low in the mix, with a good deal of wide reverb, which in itself is not dissimilar to that of Panda Bear. And yet, the tone of Maus’s voice is truly gripping, and renders every other aspect of the music secondary to his intense baritone delivery. Maus’s voice sounds like a monastic interpretation of Ian Curtis. It is this aspect of his music that will surely carry countless listeners through this latest album, and take them on a psychedelic journey of mystery and emotion.
The album is at it’s best when Maus’s echoey vocals find an audible combination of melody and lyrics, accompanied by a rhythmical usage of arpeggiated strings and evolving pads, creating an unequivocally beautiful soundscape, such as on tracks like ‘Quantum Leap’, ‘Keep Pushing On’, and the brilliant ‘Believer’. Moreover, I’m certain that there is something to be said for Maus’s lyrics, something philosophical perhaps, but in truth it is the sound, rather than the message, that is most captivating.
Maus’s latest video, for the single ‘Head For The Country’, looks like a combination between a 70’s space science fiction film and the Coen Brother’s Minnesotan detective thriller Fargo. As ever, it is the music that is of most interest here. The song incorporates a monumental use of synth strings, undercut by a fast paced electronic beat and similarly rhythmical Moog-eque synth bass. It is a prime example of Maus’s ability to create retro- style instrumentals, that belie the genuinely ethereal hypnosis of his vocals.
You can download the mp3 for Head for the Country at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!
by Alex Tyrell