Pants is an ambitious artist just waiting for a soundtrack opportunity.
Nick Levine 2011-05-03
James Pants is as difficult to pigeonhole as an oversized parcel. In his official biography, his record label describes the 27-year-old multi-instrumentalist – Mr Singleton to the tax man, in case you're wondering – as a "purveyor par excellence of that unmistakable 'fresh beat' [sound]: 80s soul, electro boogie, early rap, new wave and post-punk disco". Yes, his is a complicated broth, but it's an appetising one too.
This, his third album and follow-up to 2009's Seven Seals, finds the Washington State native flitting between the tricky and catchy – seemingly at will. Across these 14 tracks, he marries 80s radio sounds both celebrated (New Order-style guitar, Hounds of Love-esque synth sequences) and berated (slap bass, saxophone, Casio keyboards) with heavily distorted vocals, an entire Star Trek film's worth of squiggly sound effects and enough reverb to have you, on more than occasion, reaching for the cotton wool buds.
At times, the near-omnipresent layer of sonic fog can become frustrating; it creates a distance between the artist and listener, distracting from the lovely melodies that Pants proffers on the likes of A Little Bit Closer, Kathleen and Darlin'. A slightly sinister brand of enigma is a key component of his shtick, but it's hard not to wonder what this leftfield pop talent might come up with if he were asked to produce something a bit more crisp and definite.
Still, Pants should find it possible to plough his own idiosyncratic furrow for a little while longer – especially as several moments here possess obvious TV montage potential. The leading contender: Clouds Over the Pacific, whose gorgeous melange of tropical pop rhythms, female ingénue vocals and Here Comes the Rain Again-style strings makes it an ideal candidate for a spot on the next series of A Place in the Sun.
Furthermore, when some hip and ambitious US indie film-maker decides that it's time to merge the worlds of science fiction and mumblecore, Pants will be just the man to provide the accompanying soundtrack.