John Maus: A Collection of Rarities and Previously Unreleased Material (Ribbon)

While compilations of B-sides are not usually the ideal starting place to explore a new artist, if you haven't yet discovered John Maus' brand of artsy goth-pop, you should do yourself a favor, and pick this up.

Maus, like Stephin Merritt, maintains an unmistakable sound while working in a wide range of styles. A Collection runs from jagged 1970s British post-punk to psychedelic 1960s prog-folk to New Romantic ballads to Eno-esque ambient soundscapes. That eclecticism isn't just a function of being a collection, since all of Maus' albums are this diverse. But these songs, while disparate, work together in how they channel a certain kind of fuzzed-out malaise.

What's most striking about A Collection (and Maus as an artist in general) is how comfortable he is switching back and forth between pop and experimentalist modes. A song like "My Hatred Is Magnificent" is a perfect slice of synth-pop, while "Angel of the Night" reads like a deconstruction of everything that made "My Hatred Is Magnificent" work: While one song follows melody through to inevitable pop hooks, with a dash of weird symphonic background noise for good measure, the other starts off promising a song structure that never coalesces; it dwindles and circles noisily around the idea of a song, but never delivers.

Maus is thrilling in these and all of his other modes. A Collection contains enough dark atmosphere to make it a perfect Halloween record.

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