The Juan MacLean

In a Dream

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During a five-year break between albums, the Juan MacLean's John MacLean kept himself busy with remixes, DJ'ing, and working on his Peach Melba side project, while partner Nancy Whang's dance card was filled by LCD Soundsystem duties as well as guesting on roughly half the dance-pop records released during that span. When they reconvened to work on the JM's third album, 2014's In a Dream, they brought something a little different to their approach. Along with the trance-inducing neo-disco, left-field house, and dance-punk influences, this time out there is a very strong debt to various kinds of '80s electronic music that goes a little deeper than the Moroder they love so much. Whether it's the Miami Vice-meets-Golden Earring guitar-strangling over the robo-beat of "A Place Called Space," the shimmering quiet storm funk of "Running Back to You," or the synth pop-perfect synth drum fills on the bubbling "I've Waited for So Long," the decade is splattered all over the mix. It's really not that different than the usual JM approach, but it's a noticeable shift and it works very well. John MacLean's skills as a writer and producer arrived fully formed on their first release, but this album proves that over time they've become even more impressive. The layering of synths is perfect, the rhythms are always interesting, and the production is unified but never predictable. His songwriting has been upgraded slightly, too, with several of the tracks on the album breaking free of the band's sometimes meandering dancefloor focus and delivering some short, sharp pop thrills. The insistent slice of moody synth pop "Charlotte" is one track, and the street-strutting "You Were a Runaway" is another, that seem like they could have been melancholy Madonna singles from 1985. Nancy Whang's vocals on the latter song are especially impressive, as she's grown quite a bit as an expressive vocalist, and her work across the entire thing is a joy to listen to. The whole album is a melancholic joy that's full of temperature contrasts (cold synths and warm emotions meeting warm synths and detached vocals), songs that comfort and inspire, and sounds that wrap their analog tendrils around the listener's brain the way only the best synth pop can. While the album may not have a classic dancefloor jam like Future Will Come's "Happy House," and their moment of cultural import may have come and gone, this is the Juan MacLean's best record yet. It puts together all the elements they've worked with in the past and added a few more, and the result is an emotionally powerful work that sounds great and is easy to dance, dream, or get bummed along to.

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