John Maus is a musician of curiosities and contradictions. He holds a PhD in political philosophy, but (controversially) appeared as a guest on Million Dollar Extreme in 2016; he makes dreamy, ecstatic post-punk songs expertly crafted out of medieval church modes and believes that pop is the common vernacular of our time; he's toured and collaborated with Ariel Pink and discursively sneak-dissed Slavoj Zizek.
Screen Memories is Maus's first album of new material in six years, composed and recorded entirely independently in his house in rural Minnesota. It presents a slightly leaner and gloomier but no less dazzling iteration of the Dracula-does-new-wave style he forged on his earlier records. Opener and first single "The Combine," for example, (re)introduces this motif immediately with familiar glimmering synth stabs, carefully layered lead melodies and choral backing vocals.
The following 11 songs are a suite of dense yet immediate compositions driven by plucky bass guitar lines and an endless array of gorgeous keyboard harmonies. Maus may have sequenced and recorded everything himself, but his live tour currently features a full backing band for the first time and it's easy to see how the arrangements on Screen Memories would translate in this setting. The upbeat, garage-y number "Find Out" even features a crunchy guitar solo that somehow doesn't feel out of place and doesn't overstay its welcome.
Elsewhere, "Touchdown" features some stunning modal shifts and tempo dynamics, while "The People Are Missing" feels like a wink to the similarly titled Holy Shit song, but plots out a typically abstract Mausian call for humanity and community.
Like Maus's best work, Screen Memories converses primarily through its musical and instrumental affect. These songs are so clearly laboured over and full of detail that their impact as a whole, coupled with bizarre and often-obfuscated lyrics, can easily wash over a first-time listener. Spend some time immersed in their depths, though, and watch as they unravel and fill in Maus's immaculate vocal sketches. (Ribbon)