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The Juan Maclean | Less Than Human | review | rock | Lollipop

The Juan Maclean

Less Than Human (DFA/Astralwerks)
By Karl Giesing

Juan Maclean was the guitarist for Six Finger Satellite, one of the best and most overlooked bands of the late '90s, who simultaneously channeled Big Black and Kraftwerk and somehow managed to made it work. Less Than Human is produced by James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy, aka DFA, underground dance legends who once turned down a chance to produce Britney Spears. A couple tracks feature vocals by Nancy Whang of LCD Soundsystem. By all accounts, it should be one monster of an album.

So what happened? I can only guess, but when your newly-famous producer friends coax you out of hiding to make a record with them, perhaps the words "vanity project" should've been uttered more often than they were.

The synthesizers in Six Finger Satellite were mostly analog synths from the late-'70s. It's been about eight years since Maclean was in the group, and he's kept pace accordingly, which means he's up to around 1986. The album has a fairly consistent sound: Mid-tempo disco beats, some sampled, some live; analog string pads; flowery, delayed synth squelches; and monotone vocals, often processed with a vocoder. (Though he used to be a guitarist, I couldn't hear a single guitar line on the whole record.) In interviews, Maclean name-drops a vast array of dance bands, from Talking Heads to Herbie Hancock to Orbital to Daft Punk. But the biggest influence on the album seems to be Georgio Moroder; and when the songs move into electro-funk (e.g. "Give Me Every Little Thing"), they sound like they could've been snuck on a Cameo record with nobody the wiser. Making retro-'80s dance music can be fun, but only if you're aware of the innate silliness of that music, and this record is done without a shred of irony, seemingly unaware that it's essentially a tribute album.

Both Juan Maclean and DFA have personal histories that are pretty amazing, making those Behind The Music shows look like Mary Poppins by comparison. If there was a book about the making of this record, I'd buy it, and recommend it. But I can't recommend this record.


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