Album Review: Juan Maclean – DJ-Kicks

[!K7; 2010]

Juan Maclean’s last album was an exhilarating exploration of futurism-via-history, a record that sounded undeniably modern but informed by classic house and disco, and single and masterpiece “Happy House” was an unabashedly retro triumph. Considering that Maclean’s sound is such a careful mixture of influences, you would think a DJ set CD would be kind of pointless. predictable influences without any of the juxtaposition or finesse that makes his own music sort of exciting. With this entry in the uneven DJ-Kicks series, that’s exactly how ends up, and the result is a mix that hedges more than it bangs, too self-conscious of its own pan-genre utopia to ever really let loose, too scattered to feel cohesive. There’s plenty of that influence juxtaposition here, but it’s not pretty.

Over its duration, the set veers from organic, disco-infused classic house (see the excellent Theo Parrish remix of Rick Wilhite, so good it’s actually reprised at the end of the mix) to sterile European tech(y)-house, a see-saw much too jarring for this kind of mix. Things start off well if not predictably, a barely-there edit of “Happy House” sliding into Still Going’s glorious “Spaghetti Circus,” but it quickly spirals off into plainer territory after that. There’s nothing wrong with the tracks Maclean selects and nothing dire, but the solid tech house tracks with a few classics thrown in for good measure thing just doesn’t work anymore. There’s no real flair to the mixing aside from the unfortunate clashing of styles: the middle stretch starting with Wilhite and ending with Jee Day is more in the right direction, but the mix quickly settles back into the complacent house, half-assed attempts at taking off again failing until the very last minutes when Theo Parrish comes crashing back into view. And disappears again. Then the mix is over, as a near-ambient remix of “Happy House” closes things in unforgivably boring fashion. Is that really all there is?

Juan Maclean’s DJ-Kicks is an enjoyable listen, but grudgingly so. There’s no fatal flaw in the mixing, and while the selection leaves something to be desired it’s by no means terrible. Considering the mix was made no-frills with two turntables and wax only, it seems unfair to expect mixing acrobatics, but isn’t it essential in this world of free daily podcasts? What Maclean has done here is a decently-mixed set of decent tracks, with nothing particularly exciting, and his attempt to showcase all aspects of his sound leaves him with a mess of almost-ran moments, the mix never allowed to settle into any one groove or mood aside from the resigned plodding at its core. Perhaps it’s just a reaction to a world full of inhuman mixes done entirely without ‘skill’ (as some would say) in Ableton, but conservatism is still conservatism and it’s boring by definition. I can’t think of any reason to spend upwards of twenty dollars to hear this, and if you’re a big enough Juan MacLean fan to think it’s worth it, you’d be better off just sticking to the artist albums.