The dance world way too often privileges the new, and not many dance artists write albums as good as In A Dream, the third full-length album by The Juan MacLean, this far into their career. The Juan MacLean have weathered electroclash, disco-punk, electro-disco, techno, house, deep house, and whatever we can call the sound of today. They never feel totally in step with the moment, but somehow always feel right and necessary. Put differently: there's always something exciting to say about the music, regardless of the release date.
Let's start with Nancy Whang. Nancy's voice has always been a kind of secret weapon on The Juan MacLean records, but this album is her triumph. Just take a look above at the album art where she's front and center. This is the Nancy Show -- you get all sides of Nancy on this record, a wide range of expression. These are all love songs, but emotions run wild. And you can't pull this off without Nancy -- she's not living in these songs, she's leading them.
Like every Juan record, this one quotes freely from house and techno and disco. Dead drums and vintage synthesizers are abundant. This is a DFA record, after all. But early on in their career, The Juan MacLean stopped sounding like genres and just started sounding like The Juan MacLean. Part of that is lyrical -- how the words interact with the melodies that carry them. The diction is always off in all the right ways. Another distinction is how much fun Juan and Nancy have with the arrangements of their songs. Different parts interact and play off one another in a way that's remindful of the interplay on classic disco records.
The Juan MacLean always get away with EVERYTHING. For one, they always figure out a way to make the very old sound very new. For instance, the main groove on the album's first track, "A Place Called Space," is a combination of epic prog/rock, phased hi-hats, Moroder bass, vocals on delay, spacey lyrics. You've heard this before. But the surprise chorus halfway through is what makes it work: "It's too late, don't play your games here anymore," Nancy sings. All that color and emotion . . . like she's chastising the song itself. Secondly, they always GO THERE. The sounds you're just not supposed to reach for, the Juan always reaches for.