John Maus
We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves



by danielsfrebirth USER (27 Reviews)
June 29th, 2011 | 50 replies

Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Call me a believer.

It’s tempting to compare We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves to one of the worst synth-pop record of all time, Owl City’s All Things Bright And Beautiful, which came out a few weeks ago. John Maus and Owl City leader Adam Young grew up 45 minutes away from each other (Maus in Austin, MN; Young in Owatonna, MN). Both are reclusive loners who once recorded in their houses. Both were influenced by their parents’ ‘80s electro-pop records as well as their own neo-synthpop records. Both abuse analog synthesizers to no end. And both tend to write hazy songs about Jesus and the moon. However, the similarities come to a screeching halt right there. It’s pointless to compare We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves to All Things Bright And Beautiful because while the latter is an unwaveringly saccharine piece of pseudo-philosophical crap, the former stands among the best Eighties-influenced synthpop records since the eighties.

Pitiless Censors’ Eightiesness hits you in the face. The Eighties’ reputation as the most commercial and one-dimensional decade for pop music is not lost on Maus; this is an album that revels in artificiality. The synths are unabashedly cheesy and pushed up against the listener’s ear to create a deceptively one-dimensional effect. Yet Maus manages to spin this into something oddly human. His baritone voice is as cartoonish as that of Baths’ Will Wiesenfeld but has the same range of emotion. He comes across like one of cinema’s great empathic robot characters--at times as malevolent as HAL, at other times as warm and sympathetic as Moon’s GERTY.

In addition to being cheesy, Maus’ lyrics may strike the listener as being somewhat stupid. “Matter of Fact” is a two-minute piece consisting of Maus repeating the phrase “pussy is not matter of fact” in various orders over a staccato synth line. “Cop Killer” has Maus singing about “killing every cop in sight” in his nonthreatening voice, and “Believer” references Hulk Hogan and Jackie Chan for some reason. Yet at the same time, Maus may also be accused of being a drab intellectual--Maus claims this album was inspired by the philosophy of Alain Badiou and that he intended to make a statement about “resistance to the current and increasingly pervasive forms of mass communication.” Yet Maus is no pedant, and pussy is still matter of fact. He is simply extremely good at being intellectual and is entertaining as well as thought provoking--his music isn’t accessible, but it isn’t arch experimentalism, and a Maus show is nothing if not fun.

Maus sees pop music as the best medium for expressing obtuse ideas. Just how deep his philosophical exploration on Pitiless Censors is anyone’s guess, but were Maus any less skilled a pop songsmith, the album would fall apart. Just check out “Keep Pushing On,” which actually could have been a Top 200 hit about thirty years ago (hey, if Soft Cell had hits...) In fact, when you get past Maus’ voice and the wall of synths, these are amazing pop songs. The best song on the album by far is the grand finale “Believer,” which is everything a pop anthem should be. Over a barrage of icy synths, Maus sings of “flashing across the world” in a deadpan voice until he suddenly brings his voice up, shouting “They call me the believer!” as the listener is sent flying into the sonic landscape. It’s invigorating and incredibly beautiful. It also puts just about every other song ever heralded as a “pop anthem,” from “We Are The Champions” to “Don’t Stop Believin’,” to utter ***. This is already a strong candidate for song of the year (sorry, “Yonkers”), and the album would rate highly on the merit of this song alone, not to mention the fact that there are ten other pop gems on here.

Yes, it’s tempting to make comparisons when referring to John Maus. He’s a lo-fi synthpopper like so many “chillwave” artists; he’s a reclusive Minnesotan bedroom artist like Owl City; he’s redefining a retro genre like his pal Ariel Pink; he has an analog synth fetish, like Diamond Rings, Twin Shadow, and other second-rate Eighties revivalists. But Maus is truly in a league of his own. It’s impossible to mistake this music for anything else, and this album completely swallows the music I listed above (with the exception of Ariel Pink). This is not a retro nostalgia piece, nor the work of a scene or genre. This is something new entirely, something that will likely influence many artists in the future, and the best album of 2011 so far. Call me a believer.

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user ratings (97)

Comments:Add a Comment 
June 29th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0


June 29th 2011


Album Rating: 3.5

whoaa first TMT and now a sputnik user... I guess I really should listen to the whole thing

June 30th 2011


Slant gave this zero stars, and I'm much more inclined to agree with them than with TMT.


June 30th 2011


^ i'm quite the opposite

this review is good to see though

Staff Reviewer
June 30th 2011


Album Rating: 4.5

I have to say I agree with the reviewer, I really enjoyed this album.

It's good to see I'm not the only one drawing Joy Division comparisons, too. John Maus does seem to be influenced by them quite a lot with the depressing vocals over upbeat dance "stuff" and then there's the whole baritone singer thing. (though that's probably a coincidence.)

Anyway, good review. Pos.

July 5th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

I would not say that this is original in any way. It sounds like so many things at once!

But I am also enjoying it a lot on my second listen!

July 10th 2011


It's an exaggeration to say this piece constitutes something 'entirely new'. Maus is clearly working
on the same direction as Ariel Pink, and albeit it is right to underline its fresh sound, it's not
exactly the 'revolutionary' piece it is being made out to be.

It's very fresh sounding, and it's a definite landmark album by Maus. Utterly synthetic and yet raw
at the same time; Maus does, much like Pink, convey an ethereal atmosphere suspended by strong
reverb over sharp melodic synth patterns, and deep haunting vocals. The comparisons with Joy
Division are not unwarranted, insofar as its 'shoegazy' component is there. They rely far less on
analog processing though. In the end the experience is emotionally gripping, baroquely saturated in
terms of texture, catchy, without getting tacky or pretentious by being too overly nostalgic or

Believer is still the best song in the collection I think; but the whole album is overall very, very
strong. Excellent stuff.

It's just too easy to get carried away in the excessive hype.

July 11th 2011


Album Rating: 5.0

I'm not saying it's a total change of the musical landscape, I just think what he's doing and how it's presented is very different from anything else I've seen

July 11th 2011


Album Rating: 4.5

hey moon is gorgeous

July 12th 2011


Very different from Ariel Pink?

July 25th 2011


am very much down with this, maus is incredible

July 29th 2011


Spotify told me to listen to this and I actually kind of like it.

Staff Reviewer
August 16th 2011


not really good but hey moon is fantastic

August 16th 2011


Bleh. Bad. Just...bad.

It's even worse that Maus is so obviously convinced that he's creating great art.

August 20th 2011


This is pretty cool

Digging: Beastmilk - Climax

September 22nd 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

lol owl city

November 27th 2011


Album Rating: 3.0

This album is pretty good, but sounds so, so much like an electro-pop Joy Division parody, I just can't take it seriously. Yet, I can't stop listening.

November 27th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

'tis catchy!

November 27th 2011


Album Rating: 3.0

I dug "Cop Killer" a bunch, but I still can't get past the Joy Division similarities. The basslines are all cut and paste jobs right out of Unknown Pleasures, and the vocals are straight up Ian Curtis apeing. I don't know, I need to listen to it a few more times, but even a 3 seems sort of generous at the moment, to be honest.

November 27th 2011


I have no idea why I have this so high, I've heard it once

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