John Maus’ claim to fame is that he recorded and toured with Ariel Pink, psych-pop darling of every indie blog of the last year due to his breakthrough album Before Today. Based on that, you could say that a listen to that could predict the results of his collaborator’s latest release. And to an extent, both albums’ penchant for synths and classic 80s tunes reflect each other. However, while Before Today was characterised by melodramatic, dynamic shifts as well as guitars, rhythms and harmonies that screamed of influence from, well, just about everywhere, Pitiless Censors is a much more fixated beast.
The album jumps straight in with an arpeggiator, quickly followed by crystalline synth lines, drum machines and ghostly, echoic vocals – staples of the album’s infatuation with 80s indie-pop music. Head for the Country is almost a dead ringer for Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls, but with church bells thrown into the mix, while the synth lines on tracks like The Crucifix could have come straight from a Gary Numan album. At the other end of the spectrum, early track Quantum Leap’s staccato drum line and bass riff is reminiscent of Disorder by Joy Division, Maus’ vocals being Curtis-esque on several of the songs when he isn’t using effects to give his voice the sound of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark or Bauhaus. Having totally flown off of the spectrum, the harmonies and overlapping voices on We Can Breakthrough are almost monastic, as if it was recorded with a choir made up of John Mauses. His simple, memorable lyrics also help the tracks with their somewhat lacking accessibility, such as ‘Pussy is not a matter of fact’ on Matter of Fact or verses about killing cops on, you guessed it, Cop Killer. Most of the songs have a sense of motion to them, and even the ones that don’t have been placed in the exact position in the track listing to give listeners a break. Slow burning album highlight Hey Moon (Itself a well-crafted recollection of The Human League’s classic Don’t You Want Me Baby) is a perfect example.
However, the album’s evident passion for these bands is also where it stumbles. Tracks like Head for the Country are so effective at sounding like the music Maus loves, that they also recall the cheesiness of said music – something no-one wants to remember. Other songs, for example …And the Rain suffer from the overdriving obsession on synthesizers and, having the same sounds as their more interesting counterparts, are easily forgettable.
All said and done though, this is an enjoyable album by a creator who clearly cherishes his record collection. Maus might not be quite as exciting as his former band mate, but Pitiless Censors has a consistency and reliability that the weird and wonderful could never hope to achieve.