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Hear John Maus’ Retrofuturist ‘No Title (Molly)’

John Maus

“…And again, and again for the first time,” John Maus repeats in an uncharacteristically sentimental-sounding moment from brittle synth-pop deconstruction “No Title (Molly),” which labels Domino and Ribbon will issue on April 21 as part of Record Store Day. (Perhaps Madonna would dig this one?) The phrase is an evocative one from the academic-minded Ariel Pink pal in a few ways. Especially in the context of this release.

Maus’ recordings, including 2011 Ribbon debut We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, run with turn-of-the-’80s analogue synth sounds as if they were still new, or at least, new again. “No Title (Molly),” with its stentorian vocal and icy precision, at first recalls Joy Division or Suicide, though when it opens up into the dewy romanticism of the bridge, it’s as if Maus is using these old tropes to express feelings that are very much now. And then there’s the fact that this version is a re-working of a demo version previously released online: Blind taste-testers would have a hell of a time telling which sparse, hissy track is the unfinished one, and that, of course, is part of the whole Pink crew’s aesthetic (a stylistic confines that Nite Jewel’s new album, nobly but not wholly successfully, tries to shrug off).

Nothing about “No Title (Molly)” embodies this again-for-the-first-time ethos more, though, than the way it’s being released. On a flexi disc! Accompanying an actual zine! Titled Smugglers Way, the package includes five flexi discs in all, with Maus’ track joining music from Dirty Projectors, Real Estate, Cass McCombs, and Villagers. The 24-page zine (the labels’ first) contains words and artwork from Domino and Ribbon artists, from a 2,000-word short story by James Yorkston to an original score of music by Owen Pallett. Laura Marling, Real Estate, Clinic, Wild Beasts, the Kills, Twin Sister & John Hopkins, Lower Dens, and Black Dice are among the acts contributing. Just like in the old days. Except, y’know, new.