DFA label boss James Murphy hauled his protégé John Maclean from obscurity a few years back, and here he can start to see the rich fruits of his investment. Less Than Human is, in fact, a misleading title, as the music contains far more emotional content than that of Daft Punk, for instance, who claimed to be Human After All.
It’s interesting to compare the two albums. The French duo unashamedly riffed out in search of dancefloor filling material and turned the amps up to 11. Maclean is far more subtle, securing some superbly articulated music that offers a good alternative to the altogether more brash approach of Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem. He’s deceptive, too, as deconstructing the music reveals a dense texture of melodic lines and electronic sounds, all used sparingly to create a continuously varying picture.
Once again the spectre of the early 1980s hovers close by, but only comes close to dominating on the alarmingly titled Shining Skinned Friend. More representative of Maclean’s style are the single Tito’s Way and Give Me Every Little Thing, a thrilling bass line groove erupting a minute or so in. Meanwhile Love Is In The Air explores Maclean’s feminine side, a soft, mellow flute based sound coming to the fore over a crisp four to the floor beat.
All this acts as a build up for the remarkable closing track. Dance With Me lasts 15 minutes and yet drifts by in an instant, its organic development totally hypnotic, and a captivating listen demonstrating Maclean’s sense of structure. It is also intensely moving, the untempered piano sound towards the close tapping into a state of restrained euphoria.
This being electronic music, the machines do occasionally get the upper hand. In The Afternoon is a short but disconcerting track, interrupted by a feminine android intoning, “Wait until it’s dark, before you step into the light”. And yet, My Time Is Running Out is a thing of melancholy electronic beauty, a lighter break beat accompanying harp arpeggios and a sparky treble riff.
The only regret about this record is its relative brevity, a complaint you would rarely hear in conjunction with a dance based album, seeing as most are half an hour too long. No, Less Than Human is actually more, and has a lot more to offer emotionally than many a song based opus. It’s a mightily impressive achievement, and marks The Juan Maclean as another DFA name to keep an eye on.