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Review: John Maus – Addendum

Jun 7, 2018 4 min read

The latest release from American singer/songwriter John Maus never stands still, yet never seems to cover any ground in its 35-minute afterword to his previous effort, Screen Memories (2017). The 12 tracks of Addendum form a wacky, synthesizer-driven album – one that sounds similar to deranged, 90s video game music. It’s the work of an artist straying from what is considered ordinary, but without being progressive. Somewhat admirably, in the pursuit of simply what Maus himself wants to create, Addendum comes off as dangerous and weird. However, the essence of each song on this album sounds akin to a pre-programmed singalong track on a Technics keyboard, to the extent that Maus almost takes the form of a reincarnate Wesley Willis, employing a sterile, bland production and mix to drivel over with his peculiar baritone.

The very first cut on Addendum, “Outer Space”, begins with a fantastic, throbbing synth and the eerie, circling whispers of “over here”. While this introduction is especially promising, after some heavy tremolo on some cheap lyrics, awkward textures, sci-fi sound effects and a sudden 80s pop guitar solo, the track feels somewhat disjointed, in a way that detriments the overall cut. In addition to this, the chorus of “my friends” bafflingly doesn’t contribute anything substantial to the track’s message, or to the enjoyment of it. On “Outer Space”, the weak drum machine use and unattractive sonic qualities of this kit are quickly exposed, a pertinent flaw that runs throughout the entire album, save for two songs. A feebly mixed snare, inconsistent thumps of a treble-heavy tom and a frail, flat kick, take away from the overall impact of each song, as they sound cheap and lazy, with little consideration for how the drum sound actually propels the rest of the instrumentation.

“Dumpster Baby” is one of the weaker tracks on the album, with its mumbles of “take that baby to the dump” not leaving a bad ring in the ears, but coming off as a tad cringe-worthy and crude. As is commonplace on Addendum, the track has a pretty decent take-off that holds its own, but is shot down by the wacky effects and muffled vocals of Maus – further suffocated by the how quickly the track becomes stale and how little it does to offset this. The following track, “Episode” is a forgettable croon from Maus, liberated only by its somewhat airy pad backing, which leads into “Drinking Song”, firing up with an awesome opening keyboard line. The track is somewhat tainted by the dismal drum sound used on the track, yet its harmonising, intertwined lead lines create arguably the most enjoyable track on the album – despite it being a minute-long instrumental filler.

Adopting a variation of a famous Motown beat, “Figured It Out” is an interesting, yet short-lived track, which is both saved and ruined by Maus’ droopy vocals. His voice, drowned in slapback delay, manages to take focus away from his individual melody and lyrics, which does highlight the promising shift in tempo. Unfortunately, the overall stock-beginner-keyboard-function accompaniment remains tacky and unmusical, restraining the track from what could be. “Middle Ages” is a highlight for the album, with its heavily panned vocals and more powerful drum sound resulting in a cohesive track that isn’t as cheesy or forgettable as its counterparts. Despite setting up a perfectly good progression just before the two-minute mark, Maus refuses to let the song evolve, boxing it into its original and only groove, causing the track to become dreary to the ears and fade without a reasonable development or conclusion.

“Mind The Droves” opens with a straight four-on-the-floor beat, and introduces a jittery and anthemic bass line to create a head bopping and moody atmosphere. The 80s style synthesizers build to a dark and pulsing line at around 1:20, with groaning vocals and heavier drums properly suiting the song’s style and production. Combining this with ambient roars drenched in reverb, the song is one a listener will likely want to hear more of, a rarity on Addendum. “Privacy” is a more psychedelic piece which utilises intricate synth work, an ever-changing drum groove and spaced out instrumental sections create a fun and interesting track.

“Running Man” is a more energetic cut, but its underwhelming bridge/verse and tiring repetition lead to it being forgotten in the track listing, along with track number 10, “Second Death”. A relaxed cut despite its namesake, with a somewhat Gregorian vocal melody and ambient instrumentation, it falls short in its relationship between the hollow instrumentation and Maus’ deep, sludging vocal delivery. At this point in the album, it becomes clear that there isn’t going to be any great shift in style or any release from Maus’ state of mind, with the final tracks “1987” and the “I Want To Live” (both allegedly recorded over 15 years ago), failing to provide any real enrapturing close. The former, as per the majority of the album, has a brilliant introduction, fashioned with a finally suitable drum sound, and a well-constructed instrumental. The interplay between the bouncing sub line on the left channel, and the droning on the right, immerse the listener. Given the ridiculous amount of reverb on Maus’ vocals is expected at this point, it doesn’t impair the track. “I Want To Live” opens with a steadily detuning riff, and is followed by sinister growls of “forever is now”, before entering an awesome solo section at the 1:20 mark, which almost redeems some of the previous tracks. It is a shame the second best song is placed in the closing slot, as Maus’ lyrics are comprehensible, the sonic qualities of his keys and synths work well, and the song has an overall progressive feel that, regrettably, comes too late in the album.

Every song on Addendum starts and ends in a rather strong fashion, with some ripping grooves and dark, spiralling synthesisers showing John Maus indeed has the capability to write an enjoyable and catchy alternative pop song with ease. Yet each individual track never really takes flight into something more satisfying and each song doesn’t really stand its own in relation to the entire album. Ultimately, this album is not a ride for everyone. In its first listen, the out-there vibe of Addendum and Maus’ zany delivery may be alluring to some, but on repeat listens, only a handful of tracks demand attention to their oddity.

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