We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Jul 12, 2011 Web Exclusive
John Maus, a close friend of Ariel Pink, crafts pop music with a similar aesthetic. Washed-out vocals, hopscotching genres, and abrupt shifts in moods and tempos are the rule here, akin to riding a tilt-a-whirl while on hallucinogenic drugs. He also finds antecedents, both spiritual and sonic, in the likes of Xiu Xiu, Swans, and Arthur Russell throughout Pitiless Censors. But ultimately he's crafted a singular art piece rife with joy, sadness, regret, and redemption on what is certainly one of the finest LPs of 2011 thus far.
There's much to like in this miasmatic array of stylistic shifts. "...And the Rain" is driven by atmospheric organ samples that conjure an eerie, downcast mood, as Maus intones, "And the rain came down, down, down, down," as if he's proselytizing from the clouds.
The metronomic piano pulsations of "Hey Moon" provide the heartbeat for a winsome ballad, as Maus confesses, "I want to fall so deep," in his guttural, near Ian Curtis-esque baritone. The playful synth-pop of "Keep Pushing On" is belied by incorporeal, near demonic vocals courtesy of Maus, as he sounds downright menacing intoning the title like a mantra with echo effects eerily obscuring his voice.
The stark organ bleeds of the vignette "The Crucifix" give way to the ebullience of "Head for the Country," where Maus' vocals sound particularly detached, like whispers from the ether, before he declares emphatically, "This is where a human being finds itself," intimating something of a rebirth.
Closing number "Believer" finds Maus intoning unintelligible vocals over swirls of ethereal synths, as though he's speaking in tongues. Yet it doesn't really detract from the emotional impact in the least. This, the apotheosis of the album, is overwhelming, and like the rest of this excellent record, exists in a hazy netherworld that can be a discomfiting place to inhabit. But stick with Maus, and you're with him on his profound and affecting spiritual journey.
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 9/10