Electroclash is deader than disco, but its passivity remains. On The Future Will Come, the new album by the Juan MacLean, vocalist Nancy Whang emotes with an energy level just a bit above that of the infamously deadpan Miss Kittin. And although this isn’t an album that totally lives or dies on the basis of vocal tracks, Whang’s participation is a potentially divisive proposition. She appears in most of the songs, often in duet with MacLean. On album opener, “A Simple Life”, the listener waits through four minutes of quickly modulating synths and dry drums before being treated to Whang’s lead vocal. Even though plucky higher-end melodies appear and interact with the repetitive lyrics, the overall effect is somewhat anemic.
Much more disciplined and successful in its purpose as a dance track is “One Day”, which features call-and-respond male and female vocals against a stark 4/4 rhythm, but eventually blooms via classic house elements that set up the chorus’s satisfying hook. “Tonight” follows roughly the same pattern, but once again four minutes pass before the vocal interplay kicks in. Clocking in at ten minutes, the song feels more like an extended remix with the proper song at its center. In a live club setting, the number might earn its epic length, but as an album track “Tonight” feels unnecessarily long.
“Accusations” is the most energetic track here. Driven by a funky bass line and an adventurous percussion arrangement, its repeated vocal hook “I get so emotional these days” is appropriate because the song is somehow more human than the other material on the album. A sampled exhalation forms part of the rhythm of the song, indicating that this is the one song that really breathes. In the obligatory chill-out song, “Human Disaster”, the busyness of the rest of the album yields to lonely piano and vocals that aren’t formally brilliant but do make an impact through their simplicity. The song serves the same brief comedown function as “Scott” did on Simian Mobile Disco’s Attack Decay Sustain Release.
MacLean’s interest in the intersection of human and machine is well known, and The Future Will Come seems only slightly less concerned with that topic than his Less Than Human from 2005. While concepts like future shock and technological singularity are clearly on MacLean’s mind, his music does not seem to be advancing in brave new directions. Most mainstream electronic music borrows explicitly from the past in order to introduce something new. MacLean’s attempt to reconnect with the sound of acts such as Human League would be more successful if he served it up as a bona fide, period-faithful homage, like Zomby’s Where Were U in 92?, or a complex hybrid, such as Burial’s Untrue. He might even consider Hot Chip’s approach to last year’s Made in the Dark, which favored warts-and-all live takes in order to create mistakist ballads. Instead, The Future Will Come sticks too closely to a familiar middle ground that might be functional for the dance floor but ultimately offers diminishing returns in other settings.
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// Notes from the Road
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