- Early singles like the woozy electro of "By the Time I Get to Venus" and the long-night trance of "You Can't Have It Both Ways" established the Juan Maclean as perhaps DFA lineup's most coldly libidinous act. James Murphy always wanted his fun fleshy; with Juan, sex—dancing—seemed like small engine noise, machine people in heavy collision. But, in the intervening years, perhaps even John Maclean's blood has gone a bit mercuric itself. The Juan Maclean's debut full-length, Less Than Human, was a relatively sedate and introverted statement compared to Juan's first releases, followed by almost three year of silence.
Finally then, last year brought two teaser singles for the long promised follow-up, both of which bookend that album, The Future Will Come: "Happy House," 12 rompin' minutes of retro piano-fueled disco house, and the lead-footed futurism of "The Simple Life." Recruiting LCD Soundsystem's Nancy Whang for some much-appreciated vocal aid and Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel of DFA's Holy Ghost!, much of Future is a conscious turn away from Juan's jumped-up house and melancholic machine-funk toward the vocal-based synth pop of acts like The Human League. Gone, for the most part are the limber, loose-limbed jams; in their stead we find a newly-focused, insular take on early '80s new romantic revivalism.
For the concentration on shorter, poppier songs on Future however, there's little of the creative concision or melodic craftiness of bands like The Human League or OMD. They made use of spacious and uncluttered sonic presentations, and Juan's sophomore effort feels fussy by comparison. Often, diversionary elements are compiled onto songs that could benefit from far cleaner tabling. "A New Bot" is especially messy, with far too many instrumental detours buried in the mix and an irritating synth that sounds like a cereal-box kazoo. "The Station"' spoils Juan and Nancy's shrewd boy-girl exchange with the same overly complicated designs, drawing you away from where your ear should really linger. (It's a fucking duet, dudes.)
Where the Juan Maclean's typically hooked you with atmosphere and long-form jailbreak grooves, the Juan's failings to pen memorable choruses or tight confectionary melodies become a burden the band's never really shouldered before. Phrases like "I'll be here after midnight/ Wearing my be-lea-guered frown" choke "One Day"'s infectious, string-laced strutting. Maclean's voice, long disguised behind vocoders and various mic-effects, is central to the band's new designs, and its milquetoast vibe creates an often unpleasant distraction. With nowhere to hide, "Human Disaster" comes down to Juan himself, and it's like the awkward Bizarro World version of pal James Murphy's sentimental "New York I Love You..."
Though not all of the new material on The Future Will Come is quite so frustrating—"Tonight" locks into another of the band's open-collared stomps and "No Time" dips into awesome acid-trail trance mid-track—it's hard to feel that Juan's second record is more than the listener given an ear to an awkward stage of growth, one that'll hopefully pay off the next album out. But, at the very least, we've now got "Happy House" on CD.
01. The Simple Life
02. The Future Will Come
03. One Day
04. A New Bot
06. No Time
08. The Station
09. Human Disaster
10. Happy House