Any long-term DFA disciples out there will know just how far John Maclean has come as an artist in the last 15 years.
From the compelling, slightly reclusive electro of the superb Less Than Human debut in 2005, he has gradually emerged from his shell to join the disco party, making certifiable house bangers in the company of Nancy Whang, an essential element of The Juan Maclean. Together they have created a musical bond notable for its effortless chemistry, and with songs such as Happy House and The Simple Life, they have ensured many a house dancefloor carries their music with pride.
Nowadays disco and early house exert a strong influence on their output, the tempo noticeably higher than it was in Maclean’s solo work. Strong beats and block keyboards are the order of the day, the latter dishing out heady hooks with aplomb. To complement these Whang’s lyrics are consistently a cut above the norm.
While the Brighter The Light gives The Juan Maclean a chance to reflect on how far they have come musically, it does so not with a greatest hits package but through releasing a collection of 12” singles from the last six years, popping in a couple of exclusives and new tracks for good measure. The quality threshold is reassuringly high, the good vibes spread far and wide, and the selection is presented with the tracks often closer together, creating a mixtape feel.
Once again Whang’s vocals, slightly deadpan, are the perfect foil for Maclean’s beats, which hold equal parts disco, early house block piano riffs. After the funky What Do You Feel Free About? sets the scene, twisting its lyrics neatly towards the end, keyboards shower down at the start of Zone Non Linear, getting the right blend of dancefloor thrills and lyrical substance.
Feel Like Movin’ is one of the outright crackers here, a slinky beat and brilliant riff combining to devastating effect, and unwittingly hitting a very similar spot to Floorjam by Stoneage 25 years ago. Whang has a winning lyrical couplet up her sleeve, too: “Let your heart get crazy, and let your head get dizzy. Let yourself get dizzy, it’s easy, put your feet on the dancefloor, show me what you’re made of!”
The mood cools a little for Quiet Magician, a deeper number which has a really nice squiggly motif and rounded beat, and then the finale is the title track, a lovely Balearic number that stretches out like the Mediterranean, with a really nice sustained chord progression, once again back on the piano.
This is a highly enjoyable collection from the duo but it does feel like the closing of a chapter, with a suspicion – borne entirely of a musical hunch – that when they return there might be some new tricks in the box, and a few more risks taken. This collection shows the old tricks have served them brilliantly so far, and The Brighter The Light works as it says it will, leaving us with a lasting high.