Screen Memories, John Maus’ 2017 album, is titled as a reference to distorted memories from childhood and how so many of our memories now and our sense of time are distorted and even mediated through the screens of our everyday lives. That Maus tends to compose his songs through the ecclesiastical modes of medieval music as explored again by late 70s and early 80s synth pop pioneers like OMD, Human League and Gary Numan would seem to give his own music a quality of being of a time while also being outside it.
In contrast to the aforementioned heady intellectual concepts, Maus’ live show brought those sounds to life in a seething, visceral, powerfully emotional way. Known for this kind of performance, Maus seems to tell us that maybe we do live with mediated experience at this time but that it needn’t rule our lives and that the emotions we feel and the connections with have with others directly or through own recognition of what it must be like to witness and experience the atrocities of the world don’t have to be some abstract concept we can dismiss because we can so often just understand it as another part of the entertainment landscape, especially the way much of news is framed and presented. Maus’ highly charged performance, as though bodily wracked with the harrowing realities of the subjects of his songs, both broke the purely entertainment level of the show by being too intense and raw to truly see as a concert as well as the conceit that entertainment needs to just be art and can’t aspire to strike deeper than simple aesthetic stimulation.
As Maus’s show progressed and he allowed himself to manifest the spirit of the music more fully it was an example of the Theatre of Cruelty in that Maus didn’t spare himself emotionally and seemed willing to break into his own subconscious to deliver something more primal than a conventional pop song. Maus is often credited with being a pioneer of hypnagogic pop and it’s easy to see why as the songs, especially later in the set, felt like a waking dream in which emotions and thoughts that maybe one doesn’t often let fly in public flowed freely—a psychic cleansing too rare in live music.