REVIEW: John Maus – A Collection of Rarities and Previously Unreleased Material


Your ”average” John Maus listener (if such a thing exists), usually falls within two boundaries. One faction believes John to be a visionary musician, wittling down pop music to its very essence in an ever increasingly disparate sequence of influences, from classical to post punk. A man who in his own words, is utilising pop as a commodity of today’s society to infuse digestible, danceable synth tracks with heavy themes and talking points where usually there’s talk of ”the club” and ”the one”, in a one man assault on the shackles of society, the powers that be and the invisible influence over us all. The other’s see him as Ariel Pink’s savant mate, who despite his impressive educational endeavours talks and acts like he’s just got done snorting big fat baby arm sized lines of coke both on and off stage. Whichever opinion you side with one fact is undeniable (go on seriously, try and deny it, I DARE YOU). John Maus knows his way around a pop song.

And why shouldn’t he? Maus has made it his career mission to take pop music to it’s logical conclusion, a journey that you can somewhat trace through the course of the compilation. 1999’s ”Fish With Broken Dreams” utilises Johns classical training entirely, abandoning his yet to be refined aesthetic for tumbling, bombastic classic flourishes of madness. Compare it to any other track on the record, it’s so much more ”live” than the intentionally lo-fi recordings of his newer direction which has seen both Maus and fellow alumni Ariel Pink unfairly tied to the now defunct ”chillwave” scene in recent years.

The album largely vetoes a ”casual introduction” approach, instead focussing on his more (contextually)  recent dancefloor aimed synth pop leanings. ”Bennington’s” meta-pop cool, simultaneously parodic yet authentic (much like most of John’s output), is a perfect example of what Maus does best. It’s rigid bass undercurrent and robotic thwacking drums overlaid with intrusive synths would have even the most po faced muso grinning himself into facial cramps, and dancing his feet into a fine paste. What offsets this and stops the whole thing from becoming a Heartbreak-esque ”is this a joke? It’s got to be a joke right?” farce, is his brutally honest lyrics.  The lines ”I still love the girl from Bennington, even though I’ll never see her eyes, I love those fucking eyes” here paint the picture of a man laying himself bare to the listener, again something John has never shyed away from.

Similarly 2003’s ”The Law” mixes what should be a carefree, flittering, parping, synth ditty, with sheer melancholy, rendering the track with an unexplainable musical nostalgia. Lyrically, The Law recall’s the persecution themes of Love Is Real’s ”Right’s For Gays.  Lyrically the themes appear similar, with John singing ”You’ve got to pray the price for what you are, yeah that’s The Law”. The target here however reflects the muddied nature of the recording itself, leaving you to assume that the track has to be autobiographical, something which again just feeds into the melancholy of the piece.

And then there’s tracks such as 2005’s ”The Beat”, that throw so many abstract ideas together, its confusing how the thing works as a pop song at all. It’s like constructing an aeroplane out of used trainers, tinfoil and wishes and somehow managing to fly around the world in it. Fusing together church organs, vacuous tongue in cheek lyrics, zig zagging electro synths, chiming bells and post punk basslines, The Beat showcases the sheer individuality of Maus’ sound.

Whether ACORAPUM is the forgotten sounds of a lonely soul trying to connect with a world in which he doesn’t fit, a compilation of simply great abandoned records, or a cherry picked philosophical meta pop agenda is to be decided. Just as much as John’s music can sometimes be confusing, and alienating in its more avante garde moments, so too can the man himself. But rest assured that that isn’t his intention at all. Under the flippant pop sheen and the tongue in cheek leanings, lies messages and concepts so bluntly, bravely and obscurely put, that you can’t help but admire Maus’ punk ethos against the status quo.