John Maus : Addendum

John Maus Addendum review

Addendum sees no change in the general arc of John Maus’ work, no great revelatory shift in songwriting, timbre, or tone. That’s not to fault this record of all of his records for that disciplined structure to the project, however, given that its name fairly bluntly promises you more of the same. Thankfully, John Maus has an attentive ear when constructing his minimalist darkwave, coldwave and goth-pop songs, honing them to Casiotone crystals of song, all punchy drum machine hits, round and punchy funk base and unsettling John Carpenter synths. Oh, also, the funniest lyrics in the game.

It’s hard to listen to Maus’ work and not laugh. Darkwave and coldwave aren’t typically known as particularly humorous genres, even when goth is at its most absurd and outlandish, but he marries sincere dark synthetic funk and drab reverb-drenched Dracula vocals with, sincerely, the funniest lyrics on record in years. This is the man who wrote a song where the only vocal, in perpetual refrain was, “Your pets are gonna die,” as well as an entire song about becoming strong enough to fight and kill cops with his hands. This record is no different, opening with a track about how rich folk and atheists “don’t know shit about outer space”, a lyrical line that literally made me spit my coffee onto my hands the first time I heard it.

It would be flippant to say that John Maus’ combined tone of sincere, astute, studied darkwave compositions and goth mannerisms with his absurdist humor feels classic Weird Twitter, but the thrust of the thought isn’t wrong. Humor hasn’t always been divorced from goth (Type O Negative having their fair share of funny as hell moments), and there’s nothing wrong with getting seriously morose now and again (Bell Witch, here’s looking at you), but it’s refreshing to see someone so confident in their ability to make compelling goth songs that they’re okay injecting some straight up jokes into the mix. Even better, they aren’t designed to mock Maus’ own aesthetic, avoiding the tired cliche of self-effacing humor clapping back at the very genre they choose to live inside. They feel instead almost like those brief minute-long songs from Louis Cole or Bill Wurtz, clever as hell lyrics married to inexplicably sophisticated arrangements, except post-Black Marble coldwave in this instance.

Not that the record is all laughs. Songs like “Privacy,” “Second Death” and “I Want To Live” capture the hauntology of modern life duplicated in computer screen, smart devices, facial recognition software and the innate plurality of being in social media in opalescent reverb. It’s just that they are pressed right up against songs like “Running Man,” a song whose lyrics are overlaid snippets of “run”, “running”, and what almost sounds like “run, Dad!”. What’s better is that the musical tonality tends not to shift between the more humorous songs and the more serious, providing a continuity of experience aesthetically, refusing both to jar the shape of the record as a whole as well as refusing to let the jokes punch you in the nose so as to lose their flavor after a few listens.

That’s the trick with musical humor: At the end of the day, the song still has to be good. It’s what makes Neil Cicierega at his best so good and it’s what compels John Maus’ material here and elsewhere, justifying its static form over records when his sense of melody is so keen, perpetual 1987 coldwave goth-pop production perfected, and knowledge of when to lay back and have something more sincere or musically driven break up the pace. While Maus’ has yet to deliver a front-to-back modern goth cathedral of sound like his peers Drab Majesty and Black Marble have (though no doubt he could), he remains comfortably able to put out some of the musically best and lyrically funniest goth around today. That’s valuable. More of the same isn’t always so bad.

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