February 8, 2018 | doors at 8:30pm
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Tight Bros. Network presents:
Gary War
John Maus
John Maus is a truly enigmatic musician. Broadly cut from the synth
pop cloth, he’s fashioned the frosty minimalism of its fabric into a
cloak of infinite meaning, genuine grace and absurdist humor over the
course of three defining albums since 2006. His music is a highly
mutable affair, whilst often described as retro-futurist on behalf of
the 80’s drum machines and synth sounds employed, John’s music is more
personal than the nostalgic re-tread implied. There’s a cinematic
quality to his songs, with pathos conjured through propelling
bass-lines, trailing arpeggios and of course his deeply resonant
vocal. Moroder helped map out the territory but Maus is more
interested in seeking cadence through his love of Renaissance
polyphony and the experimentation behind post punk. It’s an
amalgamation of musical ideas as radical as its intent.

Maus is a ‘man out of time’ trying to make sense of the inhumanity of
our world through his mobilisation of the language of punk rock. His
aim is true as he reaches for the seemingly impossible. It’s a want to
emerge as part of greater multiplicity, to appear, to become, to
connect that powers his songs and the man himself.

It’s now been six years since the widely lauded album We Must Become
The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves (2011) appeared like a thunderbolt
of maniacal energy and turned everyone’s heads. Now regarded an
experimental pop classic, Pitiless Censors was a huge breakthrough for
Maus as a recognised artist and led to a vast reappraisal of his past
work. Debut album Songs (2006) and the masterful follow up Love Is
Real (2007) sounded better than ever the second time round for this
groundswell of new followers. After touring Pitiless Censors around
the world and pulling together a collection of rarities and unreleased
tracks, Maus then returned to academic pursuits. In 2014, he was
awarded a doctorate in Political Philosophy for his dissertation on
communication and control. Shortly thereafter, he began building his
own modular synthesizer, etching the printed circuit boards, soldering
components, and assembling panels, until he had an instrument that
matched his vision. With this prodigious task completed Maus turned
his hand back to song writing and began work on what is now his fourth
album proper Screen Memories.

Screen Memories was written, recorded, and engineered by Maus over the
last few years in his home in Minnesota, known genially as the Funny
Farm. It’s a solitary place situated in the corn plains of rural
American Midwest. The landscape is as majestic as it is austere and
inevitably some of the sub-zero winter temperatures creep into the
songs as do the buzzing wasps of summer.

Screen Memories unfolds like a pageant, with its variety of songs
tendering sunshine and shadow throughout. “The Combine” leads the
procession with an apocalyptic stateliness all of its own. Clusters
of chords dart between the solid rhythm track and artfully chimed
bells. “It’s going to dust us all to nothing, man” intones Maus
assuredly, “I see the combine coming”. Tracks like “Sensitive
Recollections” and “Walls of Silence” overflow with the elegiac
splendor we’ve become accustomed too from Maus’ previous work, at once
mournful, yet full of redemption. Whilst “Find Out” is a persistent
thrill ride of guitar histrionics and instructive demands amidst the
sputtering drum machines. “Over Phantom” channels a similar perpetual
energy with its hyperactive shifts of harmony and grand flourishes of
swirling echo. “I am a phantom over the battlefield” booms Maus miles
above the vast acres of dazzling bright melody. Many of John’s lyrics
adopt this Spartan approach, yet their reiteration throughout the song
bears up with their meaning shifting through repetition. “Teenage
Witch” and “Pets” deploy a similar tactic, the latter teaming up one
of John’s most droll lyrics with a colossal bass figure integrally
linked to the song as a whole by way of forgotten thematic devices
such as augmentation, stretto, and inversion. The lyrics at the end of
the track underscore the album’s eschatological bent, “standing
between time and its end.” “Decide Decide” finds Maus in dreamier
climes, its arrangement of drums and exquisitely eddying keyboard
lines tumble evocatively into huge oceans of ambience. Comparably
quixotic synth-drifts come to the fore on “Edge Of Forever” too, the
song sounding as if it was beamed in from a distant celestial sphere.
“Touchdown” meanwhile is a great example of how Maus builds
apprehension within his songs, it’s a primed and focused anthem, all
scintillating keys and monumental beat. The tension only breaks once
for a decidedly ebullient interlude with Maus echoing commands to
“forward drive across the line!” That same feeling of your
heart-racing away from you is also present in the taut track “The
People Are Missing” (the only condition upon which any real politics
can be founded), which captures some of the intensity and passion of
John’s frenzied live performances.

“Bombs Away” draws the album to a close. The track sounds like a chase
becoming a hunt and was co-written by Matt Fishbeck and Ariel Pink
(whom Maus used to play with in Haunted Graffiti). Through the whole
album Maus has an undeniable talent in grasping the mettle of each
song, reaching within and building up a sincere core, before teasing
out the edges in acknowledgement to the very ridiculousness of its
existence. Rather than creating these songs through an enjoyment of
the process Maus considers himself more in the role of someone
discovering them buried just beneath the surface. Perhaps the songs
presented here are the ones that mask his real intentions, Freud
pressing record and turning the TV channel to snow. All we can be
certain of now though is that John Maus is back and he sounds
gloriously alive. The triumph of the human is upon us and all the
false gods and bad jokes will be the first to fall.