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




John Maus fetishizes ’80s pop with a consistent razor focus. Anything from his latest effort, creatively called A Collection of Rarities and Unreleased Material and spanning over a decade of Maus’ career, could fit into 2010’s excellent We Must Become Pitiless Censors of Ourselves without skipping a beat. This consistency seems to have bloomed in the late ’90s, when Maus briefly played with like-minded outsider Ariel Pink, discovered pop music, and began using his brooding soundscapes to artfully house hooks, melodies, and just enough dark disco flourishes to make the Goth kids hit the dance floor.

If Brian Ferry took his lounge-singer swagger and channeled Ian Curtis’ steely doom, then you have John Maus’ vocals. Throughout, he attempts to slightly deviate from his typical monotone warble (especially on 2004’s “Mental Breakdown”); for example, when he sings through his teeth with rockabilly flair, “What the fuck is going on in my mind?” While his voice is crucial to his music’s impact, the pillows of dark synths actually form his sound’s core. On the very Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti-inspired “Castles in the Grave”, Maus introduces us to inaudible ghoulish vocals that run amok in a swell of church organ blasts. It almost could be mistaken for a Halloween novelty song, yet somehow it works.

Elsewhere, “Bennington” will transport you to your own personalized vision of ’80s heartbreak, likely involving blue mascara and a fog machine. “Time and time again/ I see her in my dreams,” sings Maus about the girl he loves from Bennington — “those fucking eyes.” The track is so unabashedly clichéd that this becomes its strength. Judging from this collection, it appears that’s the point of Maus’ music: He ramps up the more ridiculous attributes of a stale genre and then magically makes us enjoy it through repetition and songcraft.

Like any collection of rarities and unreleased material, this one has its share of duds, but hey, the title states its purpose. The fact that there are so many highlights from Maus’ back catalogue that haven’t seen the light of day renders this compilation a success and a must-get for any fan of the glum keyboardist.

Essential Tracks: “Mental Breakdown”, “Castles in the Grave”