The Juan Maclean: Less Than Human

The Juan Maclean
Less Than Human
DFA

 

The computer club programmed all of the late-'90s "intelligent dance music" for high IQs while avoiding the sweat, stink, and swagger of the locker room. Of course there was another slighted S word--sex--one more region mysterious to boys who avoid club floors. Thank heavens, then, for DFA. Their dance tracks take rock audiences and sift out the bad in bed, pushing flowers to the wall and filling the middle with those willing to shake it for the little death.

If DFA's back-to-the-basics dance-floor aesthetic argued an end to the ass/head divide, then Juan Maclean's first single and the label's first 12-inch, "By The Time I Get to Venus," was a manifesto of electro minimalist stupid fun. His second track, "You Can't Have It Both Ways," was denser and added Nancy Wong's ice queen routine, but still sounded naively eager to please.

Which is why Maclean's debut, Less Than Human, is confusing. It's a melancholic masterwork that sings the heartbreak of Kraftwerk's computer love from the view of an Apple II that realizes it's been dumped for a PowerBook. It's a little dumb. But still sexy. The opener, "AD2003," plays too close to the autobahn while "Shining Skinned Friend" growls robot references in his best Freddy Krueger voice while the dark bass drives off synth-pad clouds. The disco-funk workout "Give Me Every Little Thing," sounds like the blackout fantasy of !!!'s Nic Offer after being KO'ed by Maclean for being such a goober. "My Time Is Running Out" opens with arpeggiated harp sounds and lush synths, blooming into an ass-wiggling Knight Rider bass and squiggly Commodore 64 melody that suggests innocence in the face of Maclean's profound sense of dismay. On his website, he says that this song was inspired by a time in which he was too high to realize it was New Year's Eve, and wondered what the fireworks were for.

Prior to his reincarnation as a dance producer, Maclean spent six years as a hard-touring noise rocker in Six Finger Satellite, but hung it up to teach, and after some baby-mama drama was raising his two kids as a single dad. It was only DFA's James Murphy who convinced him to create (music, not children) again. This further bit of bio makes Less Than Human more so--a man who'd gone through some hell came back to make us dance. That said, no one gets free without work. "Tito's Way," the first single, sends the bass's eighth notes blindly through piles of cowbells, tambourines, and rave whistles while deep house percussion splatters down, trying with might to silence the double-tracked vocals, which are irritating enough without Maclean following them on a one-finger Casio. Then there's "Crush the Liberation," a track whose acid-house and electro flourishes are period clothing for the mock second-wave feminism robo-intoned by DFA's Nancy Wang. Amid piano runs and rubber bass lines Wang asks, "How much longer is this going to take?" The bass insists, then drops the subject. The piano peters out. Which goes to prove that even the dumb ones should know: When a girl isn't being pleased, the whole thing should just stop.

 
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