[1 March 2012]
Everybody Get Close, a digital-only compilation album released late last year by the Juan MacLean, features the contents of a tour-only EP, three remixes, and some recent singles. Though it suffers from the kind of inconsistency that usually plagues odd-and-ends collections, it does offer an adequate sampling of Maclean’s sound that suggests the steady evolution of MacLean’s sonic ideas. Due to awkward sequencing and a surfeit of material that sounds like album rejects, the release won’t do much to make converts of the uninitiated, though at least two of the newest tracks here – “When I am With You” and “Feel So Good”, possess considerable charm. The collection marks MacLean’s first release following the dissolution of his much celebrated label mate, LCD Soundsystem. By surveying Mclean’s sound as it developed over the past five years, the digital-only album’s principal appeal it is ability to offer the concerned connoisseur a good opportunity to measure MacLean’s electronica-by-way-of-punk-tradition against the legacy of LCD mastermind James Murphy’s superficially similar endeavor.
Both Murphy and MacLean emerged from the eccentric post-hardcore group Six-Fingered Satellite, John MacLean as guitarist and James Murphy as erstwhile soundman. Over the last half of the aughts, LCD Soundsystem emerged as a consensus fave among the pop music cognoscenti – the 2007 album Sound of Silver won that year’s Pazz & Jop poll, and Murphy was the kind of artist people generally either adored or tolerated – about as good a definition of universal acclaim as one could hope for circa 2010. MacLean, meanwhile, maintained a steady cult following, never quite breaking out like Murphy did, but garnering respect for his devotion to channeling electronic music history in a way that didn’t sound simply like nostalgic revivalism of past trends. While both artists mined post-punk affectations for inspiration, Murphy also put his own gawky, amateurish personality at the forefront of the band, offering the comforting, familiar presence of the cynical sad sack next door as a kind of emotional hook for songs like “Losing My Edge” and “All My Friends”. MacLean’s presence is much more recessive – his vocals tend toward monotonous disaffection rather than yelping anxiety, and one has to work with the music to find the emotional core. Even when his cohort Nancy Whang sings lead, the music projects a cold, slightly hostile feeling, indicating one reason MacLean’s more consistent records have failed to achieve the level of acclaim that greeted Murphy’s project. Nevertheless, MacLean also feels more genuinely devoted to the utopian promise of dance floor euphoria than LCD Soundsystem ever was, a devotion measured out in beats more eccentric and exciting and groove-orientated than Murphy ever managed.
Everybody Get Close features the complete contents of the 2008 tour-only EP Find a Way, released during the transitional period between MacLean’s 2005 debut album (Less Than Human
The Future Will Come. These tracks find MacLean mining much of the same territory that characterized his debut album, which is to say a somewhat cold yet funky aesthetic whose debt of early 80s electronic coldwave appears paramount among its influences. “Find a Way” opens things with a nice fuzz toned pulsing beat as MacLean and Whang’s vocals play against each other – MacLean chants the eponymous chorus using an unsettlingly urgent whine while Whang affects plaintive disaffection. The result proves slightly unnerving, creating a feeling of dance floor angst that’s very much in line with MacLean’s early releases. “Let’s Talk About Me” offers a jumble of sonic ideas meshed together in a track that always seems to be on the verge of falling apart, as childlike gibberish weaves around a distant shout of the chorus that’s sounds like it’s drowning the bathtub. Meanwhile, the music alternately speeds up and slows to crawl, as if it were always about to come crumbling apart. It’s an interesting track that finds Maclean clearly experimenting, though its sonic ideas prove more than slightly wearying before it’s all over. Similar half-successful experimentation characterizes the other recycled EP tracks, from “Deviant Device”, which sounds almost like a remix of Less That Human’s “Shining Skinned Friend” and which showcases a throbbing minimalist beat that ended the original tour EP on a slight ominous note, to “X-2”, which maintains a steady, industrial-influenced clang over random burst of beeps and static that never really comes together to create an interesting mood or a promising dance possibility. The decision to re-sequence the tracks leaves “The Robot”, a brief low-key piece that originally offered an effective segue way between the hyperactive “Let’s Talk About Me” and the more meditative “Deviant Device”, somewhat stranded, stuck awkwardly between “X-2” and a remix of “Human Disaster”. Torn way from its original context, the track now sounds incomplete.
Of the three remixes found on the album, Cut Copy’s take on “Happy House” proves the most pointless, adding little to excellent original aside from an annoyingly insistent of the chorus that pops up right at the track’s beginning, thus dispelling the rumbling build-up that made the track such a standout on The Future Will Come. Both remixes of the somber “Human Disaster” prove to be far more successful attempts to rethink their source material. Holmes Price’s take is one of the collection’s high points, as he adds an expressive synth melody that dilutes the track’s sad sack excesses and produces something that, if not exactly upbeat, is pleasantly garish and glam while remaining stylishly melancholy. Jay Dee’s remix is less interesting, but manages to give a rhythmic urgency to the track that remakes the original into a more conventional, which isn’t to say less appealing, dance track.
The album’s two finest moments come right in the middle. “When I am With You” is simple track that nevertheless proves memorable thanks to an engaging melody and the persistent, playful bass line. It’s got a plaintive quality that demonstrates MacLean’s ability to manufacture feeling using minimal resources. “Feel So Good”, a single release from 2010, sounds like a lost track from The Future Will Come – very much a good thing, with Whang singing in a weirdly seductive monotone over an intense, throbbing rhythm track. The title track, featuring a heavily processed vocal from MacLean, proves relatively forgettable, but is far from a failure, as it finds MacLean continuing to explore ways to play vocals against his insistent rhythm tracks in ways that usual produce fascinating results. Like so much contained in this collection, the track finds MacLean treading water, albeit in ways that give one reason to hope for the future. All the post-‘09 tracks finds MacLean exploring the exuberant direction suggested by his last EP, indicating that life after LCD Soundsystem remains an entertaining prospect for DFA.