Six years on from being catapulted out of underground obscurity with ‘We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves’, John Maus has returned with his long-awaited follow-up.
‘Screen Memories’ begins in fine style with the stomach-wrenching opener ‘The Combine’, where keyboard flourishes and a far-off digitised choir dazzle as Maus eerily croons: “I see the combine coming / It’s gonna dust us all to nothing”. Equally intriguing is ‘Touchdown’, with its mellow synths contrasting cleverly with the potent thrust of aggression delivered within its sporting focus (“forward drive across the line!”).
Throughout his latest work, Maus rarely delves into anything resembling uncharted waters, instead opting for a repurposing of familiar sounds on what is an album that’s as playful and political as it is mockingly profound. ‘Walls of Silence’ sways confidently amidst an atmospheric synth lead, while ‘Find Out’ taps into the same wellspring of freak power that’s so often harnessed by former Maus collaborator Ariel Pink. Shortly thereafter, this peculiar energy snowballs into pure troll-faced provocation on ‘Pets’, with Maus hilariously blurting out an obvious, if unpleasant, reminder — “Your pets are gonna die!”
‘Decide Decide’ is substantially more subdued, as is ‘Sensitive Recollections’, with the latter quickly proving inviting with its synthetic strings gliding over a bulging bassline and Maus’ typically menacing baritone. Both are apt reminders of the dreamy, multi-coloured synth compositions that Maus has become so revered for, and serve to further mark ‘Screen Memories’ as sonically quite similar to its predecessor.
By the time the record’s penultimate track rolls around, Maus has been transformed into a near godlike figure, triumphantly surveying the ground below as a “phantom over the battlefield”. It’s an image that would appear bizarre under almost any other circumstance. Here, though, it’s more akin to a well-warranted display of authority from an artist that’s truly a master of his craft. With ‘Screen Memories’, Maus once again welcomes all that dare enter into his all-consuming, oddball world.
Words: Noveen Bajpai
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