Since the turn of the 21st century, DFA club music maestro Juan MacLean has been laying groundwork. First, there were killer singles, from “By The Time I Get to Venus” in 2002, to last year’s international mega hit & critical year-end favorite “Happy House” as well as the “The Simple Life”. There was a debut full-length (Less Than Human, 2005); remixes for colleagues like Air, Chicken Lips, Daft Punk, David Gahan, Matthew Dear; international tours with Cut Copy and Shocking Pinks; and DJ gigs from Telluride to Tel Aviv.
Now comes the next stage of the operation, The Future Will Come. While the second full-length from The Juan MacLean may sound effortless in its execution, don’t be deceived. This record was made in accordance with a very careful plan. “Before going into production of the album, before I wrote anything, I had aesthetic and conceptual guidelines in mind,” admits MacLean. “I stuck to those, and they panned out.”
Phase One: “I was very much influenced by going on tour with my live band for a couple years.” Rather than retreat to a recording studio in Woodstock, NY, and toil in solitude, he brought along Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel (also known to DFA fans as Holy Ghost!) and drummer extraordinaire Jerry Fuchs to lay down parts. “I had already done enough on my own,” concedes the seasoned studio whiz. “With very rare exceptions, music is always made better by having the influence of other people.”
Which brings us to Phase Two: “The next guideline was revisiting The Human League,” reveals MacLean. And not the early, stodgy, “Being Boiled” incarnation either. The bones of that model were long ago picked clean. No, the sounds and songs of The Future Will Come emulate the best of The Human League v2, the lineup responsible for the 1981 international bestseller Dare.
MacLean makes no apologies for this creative choice. “In my career as The Juan MacLean, my guiding principle was to start out more dance-y and instrumental, and someday bow out making flat-out, three-and-a-half minute pop songs.” Right now, he estimates this creative arc is at its midpoint. The perfect time to craft a set of tracks to rival “Don’t You Want Me,” then. Watch the effect the opening bars of “Happy House” have on a packed night club; the exuberance it triggers in listeners easily matches the giddy heights of that time-tested synth-pop classic.
“I wanted to do an album with male-female interplay in the vocals,” MacLean continues. Rather than go down to the local disco and recruit a couple hipster girls who looked good dancing, he tapped creative foil and DFA mainstay Nancy Whang (also an agent of LCD Soundsystem) instead. She was a willing co-conspirator. “The very first song we worked on, he already had his vocal part, and wanted mine to serve as a counterpoint,” she remembers. “From there, I could hear the male-female call-and-answer.”
Phase Three was, for better or worse, simply a natural progression. “One consequence of touring and DJing so much, and always being away—and this was true for Nancy as well—is the trail of destruction in personal and romantic relationships,” says MacLean. “Contrary to the general lyrical tone in our world of music, I wanted to be as direct, honest and sincere as possible.” Humor remains integral to the band’s aesthetic, but it is not nearly so arch or pointy. No air quotes hover around the sentiments expressed herein.
With these points set, Juan and Nancy wrote and recorded the album quickly. Rather than elongate ideas into epic 12-inch singles, they strived to keep sounds and structures crisp and succinct. Focus was maintained via ruthless edits and repeated spins of “SexyBack.” The results range from the bittersweet parry-and-thrust of “One Day” to the android R&B of “The Station.” At the furthest extreme, the spare, desolate “Human Disaster” serves as a chilling contrast to the climatic reprise of “Happy House.”
Whang acknowledges that the polish and precision of The Future Will Come may catch some devotees off guard. “I know diehard Juan MacLean fans are going to be surprised, because the material is so vocal, and much more pop.” But she does not fear resistance from the masses. Nor should she. Fully-realized and flawlessly executed from start to finish, The Future Will Come stands poised to disarm millions of listeners.
World domination? It’s as easy as 1-2-3. Just ask The Juan MacLean.