Far from a footnote release, this is more valuable material from Maus.
Charles Ubaghs 2012
John Maus is a serious believer in pop music. His slant isn’t what you normally hear in the charts: hypnotic, lo-fi synth melodies and echo chamber vocals are unlikely to ever dent the top 40. But behind these retro overtones is a desire to explore our modern relationships with pop, and its impact on our wider philosophical and cultural lives.
So, again, John Maus really is a serious believer in pop music. His approach may place him beside chillwavers and retro-maniacs, but his long friendship with gauche pop don Ariel Pink (Maus was an original member of Pink’s Haunted Graffiti) and a PhD in political philosophy draws a defiantly cerebral line between Maus’ work and what’s playing at your local skinny jeans emporium.
Maus’ high-minded views have never stopped him from embracing joyous, warped melodies if an idea requires it, which it often does. Like any proactive academic, Maus has long explored his ideas on pop and culture across his work. And, like any academic, he has in the process produced a body of (previously) unreleased notes and ideas.
Enter this collection. It does exactly what it says on the tin, compiling little-heard or never-released material. In normal pop-terms, rarities collections are distinctly for the die-hards. In Maus’ world, though, the 16 tracks featured here bring the ideas of his three LPs into a sharper, tantalising focus.
Everything sticks to Maus’ template of underwater vintage pop with a distinctly 80s bent. Whether it’s 2003’s The Law or the more recent Angel of the Night from 2010, it’s an aesthetic that’s clearly captivated Maus for many years. But retromania has never been what pumps at the core of his work, and his use of familiar tones are decidedly contemporary.
The result: a series of impressionistic soundscapes whose living, breathing vitality questions the very now instead of embracing the hollow nostalgic shape-throwing of recent synth-wavers. Couple this with lyrics like The Fear’s surprisingly frank “What’s wrong with me, ‘cause I’ve tried everything,” and you’ve an accessibly rich portrait of Maus’ ever-questioning mind, instead of the mere footnote it could have been.
It’s an impressive feat, and a genuine reminder for those bemoaning pop’s current state that challenges can still be made as long as you never stop asking questions.