L.A.'s De Lux are a post-disco dance-punk DIY duo that sound like they could have come out of 1979 or 1982 just as easily as 2013. Founders and multi-instrumentalists Sean Guerin and Isaac Franco didn't meet so much as simply appear to each other, sometime before high school ended and after learning to correctly fall off skateboards began. Even at age 18, however, it was the kind of connection that had been years in the making.
Sean had been writing songs since he was 15 and had spent recent years recording and re-recording his own songs. And Isaac had been on a strict diet of classic and obscure disco and boogie music since he too was 15, figuring out the original source of hip-hop's greatest samples thanks to an older brother with a DJ sideline and an enviable collection. They both were after the same thing in music—the groove, they say, where the bass and the beat align in a perfect way that makes you want a song to go on forever. They were even in a band together, but it wasn't De Lux. But you can hear the exact moment De Lux became a band when you listen to "Better At Making Time," the song they built from Isaac's out-of-nowhere bassline just before practice for that other band was supposed to start: "Sean was like, 'You should record that!'" says Isaac, "and I was like, 'What, really?'"
From lead track "Better At Making Time," De Lux roars through Psychedelic Furs or Duran Duran-style pop ("Love Is A Phase"), delivers shouts and whispers like James Murphy at his most frantic ("Make Space"), sinks into Eno-esque moments of bliss ("On The Day") and rockets through the agit-funk David Byrne-style rave-up finale "Sometimes Your Friends Are Not Your Friends." And this is all from the first-take—they never re-record, says Sean. If they don't perfectly catch that beat as it happens, they let it go. That's probably why Voyage sounds as wild and alive as it does. Just like on that surprise recording "Better Making Time," you're not hearing a band come together. And just like how they met, you're hearing a band appear.
The Juan Maclean - DJ Set
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.