In 2014, dance music is arguably more popular than ever. With the house revival led by Disclosure and the wildly successful euphoric Ibiza pop of Calvin Harris, not to mention the US’ wholesale embrace of what they have termed EDM, electronic music artists are finding more and more opportunities for exposure and success. John Maclean, aka The Juan Maclean, isn’t happy though. For him dance music is a far deeper and more personal calling. For his third album, In A Dream, Maclean has travelled far beyond typical dance music sounds and current commercial tropes to make a record that is both rich in rhythm, groove and emotion.
Since LCD Soundsystem’s grand farewell, The Juan Maclean are now perhaps DFA Records’ flagship act. Despite a string of increasingly fabulous singles, most notably 2008’s euphoric wonder of Happy House and 2013 Feel Like Movin’, the band’s albums have been overshadowed by their erstwhile label head and frequent collaborator James Murphy. This album feels different though. You could quite easily proclaim that this is The Juan Maclean’s Sound Of Silver.
It’s important to state that The Juan Maclean is not just the vehicle for Maclean himself. More so than ever, it is a joint collaboration with former LCD vocalist Nancy Whang. Indeed, from the striking cover image to her wonderful voice, Whang is a frequent illuminating and captivating presence throughout the album. From her bold and strident voice on opener A Place Called Space to the twinkling heartfelt electro ballad of closing epic The Sun Will Never Set On Our Love, Whang provides both attitude and emotion.
Disco’s spirit of love and euphoria tempered by deep melancholy runs through the album. Tracks like I’ve Waited For So Long are glorious electro disco ballads, featuring some wonderfully interplay between Whang’s expressive voice and Maclean’s own understated vocal. Elsewhere, A Simple Design features a classy, lithe and supple elastic groove while Running Back To You’s slinky, sashaying groove is a masterful piece of restrained disco pop.
As well as the classic disco influences, there are frequent references to Maclean’s varied musical background. A Place Called Space’s propulsive groove is blown apart by some wildly careering prog rock guitar solo’s while Charlotte’s noodling guitar solos bring to mind Steely Dan if they had employed synth programmers and drum machines rather than high end session musicians. Rising above all these disparate sounds though is Maclean’s long standing love of New Order. New Order have always been the gold standard for making electronic pop that is rich in emotion and feeling. You can hear this most strongly in the album’s centrepiece Love Stop’s Here. Much like New Order’s Temptation and LCD Soundsystem’s All My Friends it’s a heart stopping wistful and dreamy electro ballad full of bubbling synths and those classic style sweeping synth washes. Rather than using Whang’s wonderful voice, it is perhaps even more affecting that Maclean sings it himself. His soft vocals seem befitting as he delivers lines of loss and regret, like the repeated phrase of “memory buys the time”.
In A Dream is a triumph on many levels. It’s an album that will make your heart swell with joy in a club or will make your lip quiver with emotion on headphones in your bedroom. There are few dance producers who possess the skills to harness both these feelings and John Maclean has managed this masterfully here. The overshadowing presence of the ghost of LCD can finally be banished.