It’s a comfort to know Maus is just fucking with us.
You’d be forgiven for expecting Addendum to be a jumble of odds and ends, tacked on as it was to the end of a career-spanning John Maus box set before its standalone release. Surprise: this is as fully-realized a Maus album as any, and it’s a neat enough summation of his sound that it could have forgivably been self-titled. If the title seems like a sheepish understatement, take a closer look at the church on the cover. Artists don’t waste images that baroque on albums that they don’t want to make an impression.
In contrast to the grim paranoia of last year’s Screen Memories, Addendum finds the Minnesotan indulging in his usual mix of icy beauty and broad humor. There are songs called “Dumpster Baby” and ones that rhyme “1987” with “AK-47.” There are also songs that seem to open up miniature black holes. Though his palate is as limited as ever—grumbling bass, cold synths, primitive drum patterns—he gets a lot of mileage out of them, situating us within a familiar soundscape before flirting with the unfamiliar.
Though his basso-profundo voice and deliberately dated sound means his music maintains a veneer of retro comedy similar to his good buddy Ariel Pink, he’s also capable of conjuring real horror, like on “Mind the Droves,” which expands on the haunting pastoral imagery of Screen Memories opener “The Combine.” And when he really disappears into his synths, like on “Privacy” or in the ruminative final moments of “Episode,” his music expands to encompass worlds and becomes like ambient music.
What Addendum lacks is rock-solid pop songs like “Believer” or “Hey Moon” from his 2011 breakthrough We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves. This means Addendum can feel a little flimsier than his past albums, and though the accumulative product is satisfying, the individual songs can feel a little more like sketches than songs in the classical sense. While a song like “Dumpster Baby” (“take the baby to the dump/ To the dump!”) might have been an interlude in the past, here it’s load-bearing.
But this isn’t necessarily a flaw. In fact, it makes his music feel more honest. We don’t get the sense he’s using comedy to defuse the power of great pop or vice-versa. Somehow on an album like Pitiless Censors that’s so steeped in irony and satire there’s an unwholesomeness to the pop songs, as if the fact that they’re so sincere is a joke in itself (this can be a problem in some of Pink’s music). The demented comedy of this album pulls no punches, and it feels about as “authentic” as music like this can be.
Maus also doesn’t leave any ambiguity about his intent. Though he’s notoriously arch in person and will talk your ear off about whatever philosopher you choose, his music is proudly dumb, and though his claim that he thought he was making “Top 40 kind of stuff” is hard to believe, this music doesn’t function much differently from something like “Surfin’ Bird.” This music isn’t the kind you “get,” and in an ironist pop landscape where it’s hard to tell who’s kidding, it’s a comfort to know Maus is just fucking with us.