It’s hard to say how much a brush of buzz can do for someone like James Pants, just like it’s hard to tell how deep the reputation of a legendarily avant label like Stones Throw perforates into the minds of more general-minded music geeks. The man born James Singleton has been aligned with Peanut Butter Wolf‘s posse for a few years now, but it wasn’t until now (after a breathlessly exuberant nod from Odd Future godhead Tyler, The Creator) that people really started to pay attention. All of a sudden his notoriety has catapulted, and his new, self-titled record is being written about in some unfamiliar places.
Pants has an odd sonic demeanor, somewhere between woozy psych-soul, scalding post-punk, and silky ’90s ambient – think a less textural DJ Shadow. He organizes these songs in brief clips; truncated loops of peculiarity – opener Beta swerves from callous electroclash to drawled-out fuzz-rock in 30 second intervals. The sinewy violin plucks and time-faded vocals of Clouds Over The Pacific sits right next to A Little Bit Closer’s blaring, below-fi pop. The epoch of this record is completely disjointed, smashing dozens of styles together; all competing for attention, and doing their best to show off in the few minutes they’re given.
While this has amounted to some great, anachronistic records over the past few years (Cosmogramma comes to mind) James simply doesn’t pull off his progressive extractions with the listener in mind. Too many of these tracks sound like empty afterthoughts, or half-baked studio incarnations, needing more embellishment or maybe just a general reimagining. You can hear the seeds of something interesting in the bowels of these songs, but too often Singleton leaves them at their base elements – blurring everything out in a wash of reverbed indistinctness, sometimes it works as an aesthetic, sometimes it seems like a vote of no confidence.
Even when James Pants throws off the mysteries and dedicates himself to one specific guise for a whole song, it often comes off as meaningless pastiche. The white-collar bubble-funk blast Kathleen is pure cheese, a disappointingly accurate replication of a musical era few people want to pay tribute, or even spend too much time remembering. Thankfully he seems to realize that – the album spends the bulk of its time relying on its only extended strength; being strange. The sounds are warped, his voice is obfuscated, and the samples are dazzling works of archaeology. However as a producer, he’s not able to transcend any of it; his music is an apparition, without ledges or seats for the listener to accompany it. His sounds and songs exist out of his own prerogative, which is admirable, but not worth deciphering.