Friday, May 15, 2009

In a league of his own

This is the original text of my latest review for ITM, which can be found here.

The Juan Maclean - The Future Will Come

The Future Will Come, NYC denizen John Maclean reasserts the continuing strength of the city’s DFA collective, delivering a sophomore effort surpassing the not inconsiderable joys of its predecessor.

Even before his debut album as
The Juan Maclean, he had come to attention with underground electroid funk like “By The Time I Get To Venus”. But on 2005’s Less Than Human it was robotic electrohouse like “Give Me Every Little Thing” that hinted at a talent recalling both a past career as a post-punker (in Six Fingered Satellite) and a feel for groove that ranked with the best of the indie dance of its time.

But it turns out that these were mere scribblings alongside the brushwork of
The Future Will Come. While the initial reports may not have sounded convincing (a tribute-cum-pastiche of Dare-era Human League? You gotta be kidding!), the end result is strong enough to give label mates like Hercules & Love Affair and even LCD Soundsystem a run for their money.

Sure the second single, “The Simple Life”, might flip from
Nancy Whang’s exhortations to Maclean (found on lead vocals throughout the disc) belting out his take on “Love Action”, but the use of 80s synth-pop tropes is more than gimmick or even homage. Instead it’s a platform for playful exploration, both musically and lyrically.

Bookended by singles “The Simple Life” and
Dubtribe-plagiarising “Happy House”, the album is held together by the melancholic central track “Tonight”, a ten-minute epic of post-disco percussion and more modern synthetic melodies. As Whang and Maclean dance off vocally, it’s hard not to get swept up in their longing to “take you home tonight / or to the moon”.

At first glance it’s an album of contrasts. Title track “The Future Will” Come recalls an LCD-like aesthetic, all existential angst and portent. But then new single “One Day” shamelessly unites the hi-nrg sensibilities that made
Phil Oakey and crew so popular with housefied strings more befitting late 80s Chicago.

There’s also more immediate electronica like “Accusations” (shifting from a stripped back start to a Wurlitzer-driven denouement) and straight-up pop joyfulness like “The Station” (“Should I beg your forgiveness / at the top of the hour? / Does it even really matter / if the taste is so sour?”), not to mention the acidic riffing of “No Time”.

Maclean’s voice, largely subverted by studio trickery in 2005, is given full scope here, exposed but not embarrassed on the beatless piano of “Human Disaster” in particular. He skilfully straddles the fine line between noughties indie cred and the edgy end of 80s retro. Just like the album as a whole, really.

Even “Happy House”, coming out of leftfield as an ecstatic reverie completely at odds with the darker edge of Maclean’s earlier output, now makes perfect sense. It’s all cowbells and pianos and silly-as-hell sentiments, but it’s also about resolving the romantic and personal travails of the previous nine tracks in euphoric fashion.

The only drawback to Maclean’s approach is that he is drawing on a musical legacy that is less fluid and soulful, and in many ways safer, than the disco and house that inspires LCD and Hercules. It is not surprising that as a DJ he has often mined not so much Paradise Garage obscurities but late 90s disco house monsters. Occasionally it means that he is not as successful as his label mates in pushing the boundaries. But it’s a helluva exciting ride listening to him try.

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