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JOHN MAUS Addendum gets 7/10

 

John Maus
Addendum
Domino

7/10

Possibly setting the bar a bit lower with the title of this collection, Addendum nevertheless showcases John Maus’ knack for a catchy melody, quirky yet lush arrangements and some seriously off-beat observations on modern life. Addendum is comprised of the outtakes of last year’s brilliant return to action, Screen Memories. That album was his first release in five years, having taken a break from recording and writing new material to complete a PhD in political philosophy (yes, Maus is one smart cookie). After his degree, Dr Maus next set to work on building his own modular synthesizers, and these sounds feature on both recent albums. He later felt the synth-building exercise was a waste of time, but perhaps it served its function as a scholastic comedown activity. Nevertheless, the tones and timbres are a delight to behold and now an essential feature of the “Maus sound”.

Despite the title, many of the songs on Addendum are top shelf tracks. Outer Space kicks things off with a great snappy beat, those glossy-yet-deep synths and a typically nice bouncy bass line and some cheesy sci-fi sound effects. The lyrics start out with “Mr Moneybags, Mr Brand New Shoes/ They don’t know shit about outer space” – typically catchy yet oblique Maus lines.

Other tracks keep up the catchy pop, delivered in Maus’s gothic baritone drawl. Dumpster Baby, Episode, 1987 and I Want To Live are nice additions to the Maus canon and feature all the things he is best at: toe-tapping pop songs that channel the 80s but with a refreshing depth to them.

Perhaps summing up Addendum is Privacy – a standout track towards the end of the album. This is a loping spacious number with a drum beat that does just enough to propel the song forward with some open-ended synth lines that gather then stutter and fade throughout the track. The lyrics focus on our need or demand for privacy: “Dead bolts and windowed bars… Headphones on tightly, privacy, privacy.” The rhythms work on their own, but the dark commentary puts the listener in a more contemplative headspace.

A few tracks on Addendum sound more like proper B-sides, such as the unfocussed Mind The Droves that resembles the other numbers in tone, but doesn’t really seem to go or end up anywhere. Other tracks have a few good ideas but sound like incomplete sketches, such as Second Death, a short track with the signature sounds but mumbled half-felt indecipherable vocals. Instrumentals Drinking Song and Middle Ages fall into this category as well.

The album concludes with the uber-gothic 1987 and the forward-looking I Want To Live: a heady ode to wanting to live forever, culminating in an anthem-like repetition of “Forever is now”.

John Maus has found a unique niche in modern music where he combines low and high art together as an off-to-the-side “outsider artist”. The compositions are certainly pop songs, but his highly original sounds, deep lyrics and even deeper baritone distinguish him as an original voice working on the fringes of popular music. Some of Addendum’s highs points are right up there with his best work, whereas other songs are more true to the “additional” namesake of the album. Deduction: take the highs.

PAUL DOUGHTY

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