Available on: Stones Throw LP
While James Pants’ debut LP Welcome was, for me, almost dispiritingly sunny, there’s a real chill to its magnificent follow-up Seven Seals. Gothic indie, industrial and cold-wave electro seem to be more significant influences here than good-times boogie, and a thick fog of frustration and barely-suppressed angst seems to choke every track.
The album was apparently conceived while James was “in the mood to start a cult”, having immersed himself in occult mysticism and the Book of Revelations. This magick schtick – a symptom of Pants’ reliably skittish imagination – is undoubtedly tongue-in-cheek, but still there’s a near-religious sense of purpose to Seven Seals, a ritualistic intensity. Unlike much of his previous output, it feels like a serious and future-proof work.
The Spokane-dweller’s newfound baritone vocal register – pitched just the right side of camp – is pretty much a constant throughout. On opener ‘The Eyes With The Lord’ those grave tones are folded in gliding synth-strings before being chopped asunder by ‘Lust for Life’ drums and a scratchy, heart-stopping guitar riff that channels Sonic Youth at their most bubblegum. ‘A Chip In The Hand’ sounds fairly forgettable until 1:50 minutes in, when extraneous sounds are peeled away to reveal a glowing skeleton of sleigh-bells and strings; the saxophone line that puts flesh back on the bone seems to navigate skronk and deep-blue cool effortlessly. The album is full of heart-stopping codas and refrains like this – see also ‘Sky Warning’, when at 2:26 a fulsome bassline and star-gazing synths lock with Pants’ washed-out harmonies into perfect pop alignment. It sounds like early Kompakt if early Kompakt had happened around ’85.
When Pants chooses to, for want of a better phrase, rock out, he does it with dignity: ‘Beyond Time’ and ‘Skyhole’ both grind hard, but sardonically so, and ‘Not Me’ packs added synthetic bounce to buoy all its overdriven guitar scree; ‘I Live Inside An Egg’, meanwhile, is more OMD than MDC. Rest assured though, Pants hasn’t left his ‘fresh beat’ tendencies behind – see the low-slung ‘Now, Let Me Brush You’, which juts its hips in the direction of Metro Area and Dam-Funk’s 21st century boogie styles. The elegant, misty-eyed psychedelia of ‘Seven Seals Theme’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, while ‘Thin Moon’ bridges the Pants sound of old with the Pants sound of new: cheap synth sequences glorified by mischievous plucked violins and, once again, subdued, well-judged guitar parts.
Our man heads seawards for Seven Seals’ closing medley. ‘I Saw You’ is a delight, all surf-rock drums, louche lounge keys, B52s rap and Bontempi bump; ‘Wash to See’ maintains the postmodern beach-bar vibes, adding a chorus of wheeling jazz horns, and album closer ‘Oceans’ condenses the analogue introspection of Oneohtrix Point Never into a punchy 51 seconds. Indeed, brevity is key to the album’s success: few tracks are more than 3 minutes long, meaning everything sounds taut and nothing outstays its welcome.
Despite being full of blog/crate-digger references, the aesthetic of the album is very much its own, robust and unyielding: every track is linked in terms of composition, arrangement and pure sonics, not to mention a kind of playful dark energy that can’t be easily rationalised. Seven Seals sounds totally coherent, totally deliberate, and unlike so many records with aspirations to psychedelia it’s entirely free of waffle. To tell you the truth, until I heard it I’d always struggled to take James Pants seriously – I mean, he’s called James Pants, for god’s sake – but I’ll be hanging on his every note from now on.