In addition to being one of my favorite musicians, John Maus is one of the most interesting characters I’ve encountered in independent music. So it comes as no surprise that this month’s CDM is “Screen Memories” from John Maus. While it technically came out in late October, I spent a lot of time around this record in November, and I feel confident that this is the best record to have come out in the last month or so.
Now, back to the reason why I refer to Maus as one of the most interesting characters in independent music. On top of crafting mind-bogglingly good synth punk, or building his own modular synth, Maus earned a Ph.D. in political science, writing his dissertation on how technology controls societies.
This academic influence brings an entirely new dimension to his work. His ability to compose and write is all rock solid, and we can talk about that more in a second, but this added intellectuality creates music — specifically lyrics — that are so unexpected and confusing but just a little too out there to appear as contrived. Over the course of this record, he sprints from quoting philosophers to almost mindless repetition of the deceptively banal and back again. And I don’t even have enough room to get into his live performances! That’s where he freaks out and screams and totally over exerts himself. There’s a lot about Maus that’s interesting, and of course, that all comes together in his music.
“Screen Memories” seems like the perfect continuation of 2011’s “Let Us Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves” with a similar chaos-tinged, eighties gothic sound still dominating. However, the much slower, expansive and intentionally beautiful moments on tracks like “Hey Moon” and “Keep Pushing On” are missing from “Screen Memories.” This isn’t a bad thing — this is just to say that his latest record is a pure wave of dark energy, far more cynical than his last.
In between Maus’ ominous baritone screaming about teen witches or your dead pets, the end of the world or football, you hear a unique combination of eighties goth with a more classical, baroque sound coming off the synths. I hear Nick Cave, The Human League, Depeche Mode and, obviously, Joy Division alongside lo-fi contemporary and long-time friend Ariel Pink, plus an entire range of classical music influences that I’m not equipped to identify. This record paints a cinematic, and retro-futuristic dreamworld which is plagued by all kinds of science fiction-y evils and the impending doom of humanity, or something like that. It’s hard to put into words how oddly familiar yet completely far away this record is. If you enjoy music that’s puzzling and challenging, you will like this record. Once you go deep enough into the maze that is “Screen Memories,” you’ll never want to leave.
I also wanted to give a quick shout out to local musician Ashley Koett. She just released a new single, “Call Me,” and a matching music video to boot! Ashley fuses elements of jazz and indie pop to create something that’s sultry, sunny and absolutely guaranteed to get stuck in your head. If you’re tryna find some chill local music with a little bit of a melancholy undertone, check this out.
You already know what it is: 1190 A.M. 98.9 F.M or online at radio1190.org. Or stop by the basement of the UMC to volunteer.
Klefeker is Radio 1190’s music director. Read more reviews: coloradodaily.com/columnists