Album Review: The Juan MacLean – In a Dream




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John MacLean, core of the evolving dance-punk project The Juan Maclean, has changed a lot due to various influences and big circumstantial changes. His post-hardcore band Six Finger Satellite broke up. He went back to school and taught English. He maintained a close friendship with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, whose influence eventually pushed MacLean back into the world of music, specifically dance-punk. MacLean’s sound was a bit different from Murphy’s, though, and, at the beginning, rudimentarily electronic. The sound was raw, spacey, and the vocals (contributed by Murphy, MacLean, and former LCD Soundsystem member Nancy Whang), despite an unexcited punk rock tinge, brought the “human” in the title’s Less Than Human to a celestial electronic reality. And while that album started the ethereal journey, In a Dream powers those elements into something superhuman.

Despite sounding more or less like a DJ project in their early days, the group was far more interested in a band-like atmosphere, which is why their live shows were accompanied by drummer Jerry Fuchs. As Whang highlighted in an interview with T Magazine, “What was so amazing about playing with [Fuchs] were all these moments when songs would develop through playing them live, just us looking at each other.”

What bleeds true in the band’s now third official studio album, In a Dream, is an honesty to what feels like intuition, seemingly fueled by that desire to be in the moment. Lead track “A Simple Design” features, for the first noticeable time, Whang as unabashed lead vocalist, her LCD Soundsystem track record lending itself to a perfect dance-punk channeling. Between the line “Everything you built comes falling down” and her repeated “la la la la,” an air of spooky nonchalance and pessimistic despair organically builds. As a result, the track holds its own against some of LCD Soundsystem’s second tier.

Since Fuchs’ tragic death in 2009, the band was left without a main component of their essential live feel and experience. This is salved some by the particular focus In a Dream places on introducing new instruments and building a more dynamic, “dreamy” sound. Opener “A Place Called Space” feels like a follow-up to Cut Copy’s remix of “Happy House”, where the line “Launch me into space” informed the track’s deep house sound. “A Place Called Space” uses some of the same “launching” techniques, but via subtler instrumentation. The upbeat tempo and fashionable groove are also redolent of last year’s “Delorean Dynamite” by nu-disco dude Todd Terje. Ultimately, “A Place Called Space” introduces In a Dream as an album with an immediate live potential beyond that of the band’s earlier albums — a trait which carries throughout.

Lyrical phrases like “less than human,” “the future will come,” “everybody get close,” and “in a dream” all operate within a purely organic context, devoid of any direct relationship to the predominance of technology or the medium of electronic music (though it envelops most of The Juan MacLean’s sound). Whang and MacLean sing about doubt, waiting, disappointment, giving up, and giving in, all more or less in the context of love. The album’s title, though, goes beyond the human and everyday. It ties these concepts to the imaginary, or uncontrollable. And when 10-minute closer “The Sun Will Never Set on Our Love” comes around, Whang sings about a love that is truly something beyond relation to human ideas like time and consistency: “What if the sun goes down, forever?” she asks. “The sun can never set on our love.”

Essential Tracks: “A Place Called Space”, “A Simple Design”, and “The Sun Will Never Set on Our Love”