That Juan MacLean is just a bundle of contradictions.
Here he’s created one of the year’s best mix CDs—and not just a proper party mix, which it certainly is, but even what you might call an “important” mix, a timely lesson in the enduring spirit of house music—and how does he choose to describe the process of putting it together? As an “existential tailspin.”
Pumping, sweaty house music at its purest, from the churning pianos to the chopped-up vocals. Surprising? Maybe: DFA, the label MacLean calls home, is best known for post-punkish indie dance, and label co-founder James Murphy’s dance-floor tastes run mostly to vintage disco. But MacLean is undoubtedly DFA’s resident house aficionado, something you might have guessed from his anthemic 2008 single “Happy House,” a homage to ’90s piano house.
The oldest cut on the mix, Armando’s “Don’t Take It,” dates back to 1988, when it was recorded in one take in a legendary Chicago after-hours session. Detroit, normally remembered as the birthplace of techno, gets its due with a Theo Parrish remix of Rick Wilhite’s 1996 tune “Get On Up,” originally released on Moodymann’s KDJ label. Otherwise, the mix sticks largely to recent material, though you’d never know it from the sound of the tracks themselves. Without ever coming off as willfully retro, any of them sound like they could have been recorded at any point in the past 20 years.
At a time of proliferating podcasts and fly-by-night mixtapes, it’s a welcome change of pace: a mix that makes its case the old-fashioned way, one perfect blend at a time.