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James Pants - Seven Seals

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Artist: James Pants

Album: Seven Seals

Label: Stones Throw

Review date: Feb. 3, 2010

Spokane, Washington’s James Singleton became a Stones Throw intern after impressing label head Peanut Butter Wolf, and soon thereafter released his debut LP, Welcome ,as James Pants. Since then, the avant beat auteur has kept up a tireless schedule of remixing and touring, releasing 12” singles and some of the best mixtapes you’ve probably never heard (The Electric Finger Vol. 1 & Vol. 2). Back behind the boards to earn another Stones Throw check, he apparently recorded Seven Seals in a cabin during a two-week period of cult-inspired, minimal-wave DIY creativity.

A fortnight with a gang of vintage synthesizers and no Wi-Fi results in a soporific successor to Welcome’s upbeat ESG-postured workouts. With ADD reference points to early LA electro, post-punk, 1980s boogie, and disco, Welcome was a beautiful mess, fleshed out with the iPod generation’s prismatic view of syncopated music. Seven Seals is instead more restrained, finding Singleton delving deeper into his own sound, David Koresh style, optioning for no-wave dirges over up-rock funk. But it’s nowhere near as fun to listen to as Welcome and the ideas he puts forth sound, frankly, like an album made in two weeks.

Releasing the strongest (and funkiest) track, “Thin Moon,” as the first single was a smart marketing move on Peanut Butter Wolf’s part. Singleton is at his best here: Falsetto in tact over a syrupy slow groove, with analogue synth loops and the ridiculous swing of ATL-fashioned drum programming. It’s about as close to “modern” hip-hop as Singleton gets, and not coincidentally, the album’s most immediate track.

He also lays down the post-punk card a few times. There are traces of the Monochrome Set’s jangly thrash, and, somewhat painfully, an Ian Curtis baritone — heard best on “Wormhole” and “Wash To Sea.” Borrowing from Joy Division was one of the most hackneyed indie trends of the aughts, and it seems odd that Singleton went that direction; even if it’s consistent with the occult aesthetic here, it’s honest-to-god played-out, whereas most of the James Pants oeuvre is funky and original.

Consider: Singleton is a huge fan of “outsider music” — oddball artists like no-wave creep Gary Wilson and synth pioneer Bruce Haack (the Seven Seals cover art is a direct reference to Haack’s bizarre 1970 Electric Lucifer LP). But his weirdness is only charming to certain ends, and shouldn’t be an end in and of itself — which is why Wilson, Haack, and ultimately James Pants are minor blips on the radar. Without any earworms to speak of here, he is stuck in gear, relying on gimmicky, ineffectual mid-song left-turns and references to the esoteric records on his shelf. Near the album’s midway point, "Sky Warning" drips with cheese-ball guitars, outré ad libs and clumsy sound effects; utterly directionless, it grinds to a nauseating halt. Nothing about it, or any of the other songs, is particularly grating; rather, their outsider ethos comes off too affected for most tastes.

“Now, Let Me Brush You” and “I Live Inside An Egg” sound like cutting room leftovers from the Welcome sessions, both sharing the same synth presets and vague sarcasm. Singleton has stated in the past that his music is not supposed to be ironic, making this whole mess that much more detached — again, congruent with Wilson and Haack’s outlandish personas.

The crux of this record is that it demands too much of its listeners, and the reward seldom exceeds the effort, no matter how many re-listens you give it. Seven Seals is not quite terrible; it just falls short of any redeeming merit you’d expect from an artist as zany, and ambitious, as Singleton. File under: sophomore slump and bat-shit crazy.

By Jon Dempsey

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