Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.

In Review: John Maus - Addendum


Highly Recommended

Label: Ribbon Music

John Maus returns sooner rather than later with Addendum, a companion piece to the DIY effort Screen Memories in which Maus built all of his own synthesizers. Addendum comes from these same recording sessions, and with a name like that, you could be forgiven for viewing it as a minor release, somewhat of a B-Record to the feature length. Initially released exclusively as part of a career spanning vinyl box set, Addendum is scheduled for a wider release on 18th May through Ribbon Music. 

Addendum does, in fact, have enough going on to be considered a stand-alone album, distilling down Screen Memories’ apocalyptic themes to a more individual experience. Given Maus’ powerful presence both on stage and on record, it is consequently a darker, funnier and more hysterical offering than anything Maus has released since Songs (2006). It’s hard to think of anyone who could do a man falling apart in the western world better. 

Sonically, this record (along with Screen Memories) has more in common with Songs and Love Is Real (2007), making the digital shimmery of 2011’s classic, We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves (2011) an experimental phase in his career as opposed to decided new direction. The homemade synthesizers, effects units and drum machines featured on Addendum are certainly more analogous with Maus’ position as an outsider artist and align more naturally with his 'punk' ethos. Philosophically, Addendum and Screen Memories do present a fork in the road as Maus seems to be consciously stepping away from his agenda of engaging directly with the vernacular and pop music, instead opting to further explore his distinct formula of modal and classical melodies infused with lo-fi synth pop. 

There was a majestic flight to Maus’ vocal production on We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves - the reverb-soaked harmonies that were more musical than lyrical seemed to align with an emancipatory and transformational essence that course through the music. What was sacrificed and now returns to great effect in Addendum, is Maus’ more varied vocal repertoire; the fired up, the self-aware precociousness and, of course, the hysterical. In terms of production, the vocals sometimes sound like demos compared to some of Maus' back catalogue - there is at times an off the cuff feeling to a vocal section. Alternately, they are so low in the mix or muffled that you can feel your ear stretching to connect with the melody. 

Addendum comes into his own in the second half with ‘Mind the Droves’, ‘Privacy’ and ‘Running Man’ being particular highlights. It’s at this point that the ideas of isolation that Maus has invariably channelled through the reality of his situation, manifests itself through the music in a darker turn and it is welcome to hear a more improvisational tone and incredibly rich meandering musical passages. The synth sounds are more expressive and drum patterns more complex than in Maus’ previous releases and are a testament to John Maus, 'The Synthesist'. For example, the vibrating glass and falling embers of synth in ‘Privacy’ glow amongst a monochromatic canvas, enhanced by an uncharacteristically complex drum arrangement that coupled with the bass create a dynamically rich picture of interlinked explosions and plumages of sound erupting in both the fore and background. 

This record will be a hit with any John Maus fan - Addendum presents a balanced dose of classic Maus whilst breaking new ground. It's not Maus' most outstanding piece of work but it is, as the name suggests, a worthy addition to his catalogue and a great companion piece to Screen Memories. AG