Available on: Stones Throw LP
It’s a well established fact here at, er, FACT: James Pants’ Seven Seals LP was arguably the best album of 2009, but it’s inexplicably awkward release date – December – not to mention the minimum fanfare surrounding it, meant we’d barely registered its existence by the time we published our 40 Best Albums of 2010. And we just couldn’t justify including in the best albums of 2011.
The good news is that its follow-up, James Pants, has arrived, a mere eighteen months later. The bad news is that James Pants is the inferior record of the two – but only just. It’s still an extraordinary edifying and entertaining listen, and confirms Pants as a major, mischievous talent, unconstrained by genre. It continues the major departure that began with Seven Seals from the good-times boogie-funk and hip-hop with which Pants made his name on his precocious debut album, Welcome. Boogie still plays a role in James Pants‘ sonic make-up, but fundamentally it’s a guitar record, particularly indebted to no wave and late ’70s psychedelic rock. They’re the kind of “indie” records that no one in an actual indie scene has the chutzpah, style or force of personality to make themselves anymore.
James Pants opens with ‘Beta’, a blast of dissonant guitar, home-built synth pattering and drums like distant hooves, immediately reminiscent of Cabaret Voltaire, Joy Division and, when Pants opens his mouth, Suicide, but a good deal more cheery than any of them. Our hero demonstrates how easily pop perfection comes to him on ‘Every Night’ – it sounds like Sebadoh if they’d gone all Marvin Gaye, in a good way. The album’s purest pop moment comes in the shape of ‘Clouds of Pacific’ – brought to life by Kathleen Singleton’s vocals, it’s an unexpectedly blissful union of twee C86-ism, surf-funk and minimal wave, and though sparse, its production values are high, its arrangement clever and strong-boned.
The real fun to be had though, is when Pants returns to his sleaze-rock dressing up box: ‘Strange Girl’ is the album’s most uncomplicated highlight, a starling goth-disco stormer that sounds like The Cramps and Sandra Electronics collaborating in electroclash-era Cologne. Singleton returns to lend her sleepy diction to ‘Incantation’, a beautifully choreographed collision of noise, stirring strings and synth-harp arpeggios that flicker like moonlight on the surface of a lake; her backing vox also animate propulsive, pepped-up synth-popper ‘Darlin”. ‘Body On Elevator’ masterfully navigates gurgling synths, ’60s spy flick atmospherics and priapic saxophone, while ‘Dreamboat’ is chillwave done right and ‘Epilogue’ occupies synth-drift territory somewhere between Oneohtrix Point Never’s space-ragas and GAS’s micro-Wagnerian cycles. It’s a highly stylised record, the work of a record collector as much as a musician, but its melodic exuberance and unerring momentum forestall any accusations of detachment.