John Maus: We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

An excellent third outing that doesn't skimp on the synths, courtesy of everybody's favorite philosophy professor.

John Maus

We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

Label: Ribbon Music/Upset the Rhythm
US Release Date: 2011-06-28
UK Release Date: 2011-06-27
Label website
Artist website

Like pal Ariel Pink's Before Today, John Maus' We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves is steeped in '80's magic. Unlike Before Today, Maus' third release is less moody, more consistent in its sense of oddness and intrigue. We Must Become... is also consistent in that nearly every track manages to top what came before it. The awkward disco of opener "Streetlights" sounds like the catchiest song in ages, only to be replaced by the electronic freak-out that introduces "Quantum Leap" slightly less than three minutes later. The album maintains its charm up until the blissful conclusion.

We Must Become... is glutted in synths. At first listen, they dress the songs in too many ridiculous baubles, but each listen uncovers more and more legitimacy. Maus, after all, is quite a ways from your average bonehead rocker. While Maus does not exactly flaunt his political philosophy degree or his PhD (in political science) aspirations, the mood his music creates may lead to a bend in reality; not only are the songs deviantly catchy, they are also dangerously easy to get lost in. "Head for the Country" displays both Maus' provocative lyrics and the immersive quality of his synthesizers. The song opens with some prime '80s pop slickness before Maus intones, "This is where human being finds itself in the locker." Whether the listener chooses to ponder that for the song's length, or instead gives themselves over to the synthesizers, both poisons leave a satisfying aftertaste. Even more ponderable is the statement repeated throughout "Matter of Fact", a modern day proverb that is best left for the listener to discover.

Even with so much synth wrapping, We Must Become... still packs its share of naked surprises. "Hey Moon" marks Maus' first duet, his partner being the song's writer, Molly Nilsson. If that weren't enough, the song also sounds closely related to the Magnetic Fields in both charm and lovesickness. "...and the rain", on the other hand, sounds just as ominous as the title may suggest, while album closer "Believer" rivals Pink's "Round and Round" in terms of uplift.

But We Must Become... waits to deliver its heaviest blow until eight songs in. A waltz rhythm and an onslaught of archaic synths drug the listener, Maus' doomy monotone delivers the punch. "Cop killer / Let's kill the cops tonight / Kill them / Cop killer / Kill every cop in sight" goes the aptly titled "Cop Killer". Despite all its darkness its potency is hypnotic; but beyond that it is brilliant, less political than the song of the same name by Ice-T's controversial Body Count, and more a requiem for that song's aftermath.

To draw an Ariel Pink comparison yet again, as Before Today provided a breakthrough for Pink last year, We Must Become... could very well do the same for Maus. The songs are clearly strong enough, and the ongoing '80's revival trend shows few signs of stopping. Maus may not be tempermental enough to ascend to Pink's state of indie popularity, but if he at least makes a showing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, that alone will confirm that real artists can still get their much-deserved prime time.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.