John Maus

We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

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On his third album, John Maus continues his pursuit of immediacy-in-action mixed with a certain calm, developing a further tension that infuses both his music and words. The immediately cheery lead synth sparkle of the opening "Streetlight" contrasts with both the melancholic background tones and his heavily echoed singing, suggesting above all else an uneasy joy in the moment, as if everything were being celebrated under a microscope or through gun sights. For all the '80s-redux claims often pushed in his direction, Maus' looming dread is much different from the nuke/AIDS paranoia of the time -- there's a sense of a new kind of rage against a dying of the light, a reaction against entropy. Whenever something starts seems sweetly winsome or romantic, as "...And the Rain" does (in its title alone almost directly referencing the early solo work of John Foxx), something else slides in to cause a darker cloud to bubble up -- in that song's case, it could be the wordless vocal breaks, but that's one addition of many throughout the album. High energy -- or even more literally Hi-NRG -- tracks like "Keep Pushing On" rub up against slower ballads like "Hey Moon," but all throughout Maus maintains his reserved, swathed voice, occasionally matching the music with a quicker pace but otherwise more seeming to soothe here. Even a song titled "We Can Breakthrough" is less charge than steady if strong progression, a sense of an unstoppable force lost in the texture but never fully quashed, voices carried along. As for "Cop Killer" -- an original song, though there's an inevitable association with the Ice-T/Body Count song and controversy of the same name -- the slow beauty of the arrangement and the serene way Maus sings about who should be up "against the wall" makes it its own attractive, unnerving effort.

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