John Maus' Gleefully Absurd 'Addendum'

Photo: Shawn Brackbill / Courtesy of Domino Records

Synthpop auteur John Maus follows 2017's Screen Memories with a collection of songs that are unique and occasionally maddening in their uncharacteristic silliness.

John Maus

Ribbon Music

20 April 2018

John Maus is an intense man. Anyone who has seen Maus perform live can attest to this, but his recordings express that intensity in more subtle ways. Unlike his former collaborator Ariel Pink, Maus rarely (if ever) displays a goofy side, preferring instead to maintain a facade of unbreakable sincerity. Addendum undoes all of that in a very, very short time. Billed as a companion piece to the particularly dour and sincere Screen Memories, Addendum is essentially the polar opposite of its predecessor and of just about the entirety of Maus' catalog up until this point. Here, Maus cuts loose in a seeming attempt to deflate the stoic, intellectual image he created for himself with a collection of oddball sketches and half-songs whose disposability appears to be an act of defiance.

Most of Addendum is built around absurd one-liners meant to elicit either laughter or confusion, depending on who happens to be listening. Opener "Outer Space" meanders until it circles back to its chorus, which proclaims that, "they don't know shit about outer space". Then, we get "Dumpster Baby", which is -- somehow -- both nothing like what you were expecting and exactly what you would expect all at once.

Quite often, the songs on Addendum are structured like mantras, with Maus repeating a turn of phrase or a single word over and over, forcing the listener to meditate on what he means by honing in on this single idea. "1987", for example, repeats its title with ever-increasing anger until one starts to wonder if Maus has sincerely gone over the deep end. Unlike previous releases from Maus, though, this technique feels more like an absurdist prank than anything else. Maus could be trying to confront the strange variances of existence, but it's just as likely that he's fucking with the listener, as well. Either way, it's something markedly different from him.

Or he could be phoning it in; it's hard to tell. To some, Addendum will read as a sloppy record of cast-off recordings. Even the name of the album implies something less than, a post-script to a larger body of work. The songs here tend to amble into the ether, coming and going without much of a care about making an impression. That they do is a testament to Maus' talent, but most of Addendum is as defiantly unsubstantial musically as it is lyrically. It's a baffling move from an admittedly unpredictable artist, but Addendum remains a strange and occasionally frustrating album, even for an artist as doggedly individualistic as Maus.

Even if Addendum is a throwaway record, it's the sort of throwaway record that is far, far better than it has any right to be. In a way, Addendum works as a sort of de-mythologizing of John Maus as a performer. His persona is one built around both intense feeling and doctorate-level studiousness, and while it was a unique idea to couple with lo-fi synthpop, it's the sort of self-conception that could have become suffocating over time. Rather than let that image consume him whole, Maus has instead provided some evidence that, yes, he can have a little bit of fun when he feels like it.


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