Where past songs like "Cop Killer," from his last LP, scanned as absurdist character plays, the chill wind blowing through Screen Memories feels more sincere. Made in the immediate aftermath of last year's US election, the LP lives in the shadow of nuclear threats becoming commonplace once more. With an opening like "The Combine," an end-of-days foretelling that uses the metaphor of an onrushing thresher, you'd be forgiven for fearing a slog of self-indulgent panic about the state of the world. But one of Maus's strengths is the irreverence and wry humour that go hand-in-hand with doomsaying, turning the key constantly between serious and sardonic. This taps into the Freudian concept of screen memories, in which past traumas are glossed over by a human mind that seeks to outrun the pain. Maus seems to be offering a glimpse of terror, before wrapping an arm around you and playing it off.
Maus is a bleak but genuinely funny songwriter. On "Find Out," he cusses out an adversary as a "dirty fucker." Later, he advises that you "better get your Game Boy" while waiting for the world to tip over the edge. He wraps up "Bombs Away" with the question, "Do you want to be my Valentine?" Then there's "Pets," the only song I can think of that tells me from the get-go that my pets are going to die. Hooked to knotty bass and unhinged synths, everything breaks loose into a double-speed sprint. It's a contender for song of the year.
At a little under 40 minutes, Screen Memories is a concise LP with few faults. Its sequencing brings out the variety on offer, as when the feisty "Find Out" gives way to "Decide Decide"'s lovelorn ballad, or when the calm hands of "Edge Of Forever" turn into flapping arms on "The People Are Missing." The sense of gravitas that might have weighed down the LP is pinpricked by the glee with which Maus treats the topics at hand. Screen Memories is intelligent, catchy, brimming with personality, and, in spite of a solemn outlook, a fun ride—perhaps moreso than any other John Maus album to date.