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James Pants - Welcome

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Artist: James Pants

Album: Welcome

Label: Stones Throw

Review date: May. 15, 2008

The gift of a synthesizer is exactly what its name implies: the engineering of novel sounds from familiar sources. So, it’s perplexing that James Pants’s synth-ridden debut, Welcome, sounds so trodden. Pants, born James Singleton, has produced an album that rehashes at least a half-dozen styles of pop from a quarter-century ago, including disco, post-punk, soul and funk. Yet, Welcome offers not the rainbow of diversity its smorgasbord menu promises. Instead, the quirks of each style are reduced to a singular tone and feeling. The result is an unfortunately stiff sameness.

Welcome is a set of 16 plush arrangements. At the forefront of each song’s mix are the soft reverberations of Pant’s synthesizer; complementing them are his similarly programmed beats, the edges of which have been smoothly rounded off. The emphasis on rich, computerized tones is at peace with the young Turks – the Chromeos, Spank Rocks and other acts your local American Apparel is pushing – who, with perhaps excessive fanfare, have been reviving 1980s flotsam for a sense of cool that is equal parts sexy and sarcastic. Welcome could be written off, then, as an unnecessary addition to a body of music that is already at its saturation point. But assailing Pants for the genre to which he contributes would be a needlessly wide-ranging criticism. The problem with Welcome is more particular to Pants himself.

Welcome fails to reach the same successes as some of his electro peers because Pants is caught between two competing methods. Pants might be a restoration artist, interested in the Reagan era as the Reagan era. In this sense, Pants would be a throwback performing with the intent of creating anachronisms. On the other hand, he might be an artist of the inverse character: one who uses anachronism to put forward a style that registers as novel and contemporary. Welcome demonstrates that Pants is uncomfortable in either mold, however, and leaves the listener unclear of his motive.

Much of Welcome supports the contention that Pants, who is 25, is an apprentice to the years of his youth. The album showcases a fine ear for the different features of a variety of genres. But by the same measure, Welcome strives to be more than a prolonged aping of bygone trends. Pants refused to copy exactly the forms from which he borrows. On the contrary, he leaves his touch on every construction. The whole of Welcome sounds as if it were recorded in defiance of a synthesizer’s highly reproducible output.

At best, Pants may be described as a revisionist – someone who aims to rewrite history by leaving his fingerprints all over it. At this point, however, Pants’s revisionist stance is less than compelling. Welcome fails to move its listeners either emotionally or physically. Indeed, the most provocative aspect of the record may be how little it inspires dancing; Pants’s deliberateness is too overwhelming, and beckons an audience’s ears more than its feet.

James Pants may well develop a style or voice of greater substance with future releases. But, as of now, his reliance on his synthesizer aptitude is too repetitive, too flat, and too conventional to convey much meaning or purpose. At best, Welcome suggests a young artist of undeniable talent but without strong direction.

By Ben Yaster

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