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The Juan MacLean - Less Than Human

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Artist: The Juan MacLean

Album: Less Than Human

Label: DFA

Review date: Jun. 29, 2005

The Juan Maclean's debut album Less Than Human may be the closest that DFA records will get to a mission statement without the unsightly clutter of words. All metallic clatter, moogy squeals and coke-nosed loops, it fuses disco decadence and record-collector erudition without taking sides: raw rhythms garlanded with machine noise. At the helm is John Maclean, multi-instrumentalist and arguably the third stakeholder in the DFA franchise alongside the bearish James Murphy and bespectacled Tim Goldsworthy. Back when Murphy manned the VU needles for neo dance-punk prototypes Six Finger Satellite, it was Maclean's scraped guitars pushing the mix into the red. He was also part of the first vinyl salvo by the label back in 2002 with his "By the Time I Get to Venus" and "You Can't Have It Both Ways" 12"s dropping alongside the more zeitgeist-ceasing "Losing My Edge" from Murphy's LCD Soundsystem project and The Rapture's once-ubiquitous "House of Jealous Lovers." As 2005 finds Murphy finally delivering the due balance on his LCD account with this spring's self-titled long player, it looks like Maclean's audit has wrapped up nicely as well.

Less Than Human, like LCD Soundsystem, eschews material from prior singles favoring a brief batch of new tracks. Emerging from the wreckage of the Satellite's crash-landing in the mid-'90s, John now sports not only a definite-article-adjusted first name en Espanol but also a suit of Stark-caliber iron customized with rubbery sleeves and slacks for flailing limbs on the dance floor. On Less Than Human, he even begins to show some gooseflesh and sweat beads beneath the man-machine armor.

With the exception of a few guest voices, Less Than Human is Maclean all-over: fat-fingered bass, synth squiggles and the critical snare snaps all spliced together from his own studio performances. "Give Me Every Little Thing" mutates “Atomic Dog” into flashy android funk while the possibly Iraq-baiting "Crush the Liberation" is a suave, druggy drift that slides on a slippery mega-bleep. What Trans Am could not master in three reputation-marring long-players, Maclean perfects in a single white-cold track: “Shining Skinned Friend.” A romance with an ‘electric’ friend set to shimmering arpeggios and a bottom-heavy Krautrock chug, it is both sublimely ridiculous and gorgeously synthetic. “My Time Is Running Out” swallows some of the Aphex Twin’s Drukqs and burps up analog bubbles and long, parallel laser lines that layer and dissolve with Kraftwerkian solemnity. At over 14 minutes the improbably titled "Dance With Me" slowly shuts down the party with a piano-sprinkled bliss-out concluding in lone, skittering automations.

If the DFA medium/message commands one groove rattling under a nation, Less Than Human is evidence enough that bot-genius Maclean is just the half-man needed to bang up the plumbing so that all faucets drip lightning bolts.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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