The Juan MacLean - "Happy House" (The Future Will Come)
John “the Juan” MacLean emerged as James Murphy’s partner in arty retro-disco. As a producer, Murphy aided the evolution of MacLean’s erstwhile dance-punk band Six Finger Satellite. And from the giddyup, MacLean’s sparse, thumping solo work was an obvious fit for Murphy’s once-dominant DFA label. And yet, aside from its cheeky title, MacLean’s 2005 debut Less Than Human was relatively free of the acidic, focused humor that defined Murphy’s work and DFA’s fleeting 2002-04 commercial renaissance at large. MacLean was less interested in dated pop-culture allusions, East Coast cockiness and Mark E. Smith impressions than he was in awkward sexual intrigue, mixed motivations and a persistent failure to communicate. His sound was entirely referential, but his perspective was all heart, crotch and psyche.
And thus it remains on The Future Will Come, though it skews a shade darker. The whole thing bumps. But aside from the buoyant year-old single “Happy House,” it pulsates with hormonal frustration and clipped hostility. And aside from its three club-length workouts (two that bookend it, one that divides it in half), the album consists of four-minute pop capsules. With the exception of the rubbery title track, these songs’ hypnotic beats are often overridden by their toxic psychological dynamics.
Most of the tension arrives courtesy of Nancy Whang, MacLean’s recurring duet foil, a thin, conversational singer with a range between cool and cutting. Lyrically, much of the disc is a weary, passive-aggressive relationship fight between the pair. They cut each other down (“Resignation’s not a feeling / So it don’t really count”), then tender half-assed reassurances (“I’ll call you from the station,” whatever that means). The tension crests with the crushing piano dirge “Human Disaster,” then suddenly, surreally dissolves on “Happy House,” the thrillingly inappropriate twelve-minute closer.
Yeah, in two-oh-oh-nine, The Future Will Come might sound a bit “irrelevant,” but, as Tom Scharpling might say, “These aren’t stocks! This is supposed to be fun stuff.” And MacLean’s vocal shtick occasionally sounds fit for Sprockets. But while MacLean isn’t a self-conscious wit, he’s never seemed too invested in trying to not sound silly, and it doesn’t cost him. Sometimes, when the darkness gets heavy, his limitations add a much-appreciated levity. As Brody Stevens might say, “Enjoy it.”