James Pants

James Pants

Along with the many innovations in cheap home recording technology have come a corresponding number of weird loners making records—and a similar number of albums long on sonic invention and short on most everything else you’d want from music: good melodies, smart lyrics, infectious rhythms. On his first two CDs, the San Antonio–raised James Pants (real name: James Singleton) fell into this trap, though you could hear his talent struggling to surface from beneath the worked-over beats. This year’s James Pants (Stones Throw) takes a new approach. Playing a handful of instruments, Pants delves into song structure and arrangements, even hooks. But don’t expect pop music. Lacking vocal confidence, Pants submerges his singing deep in the mix, swathed in layers of reverb. The vocals play out as just another instrument, while other flavorings (guitar slashes, syn-drums, nimble bass lines, Latin percussion, and a wool blanket of lo-fi synthesizers) are balled into a Phil Spector–ish sound wave. This might seem like an unlistenable mess, but instead it’s otherworldly and full of surprises. “Clouds Over the Pacific” starts with a David Bowie “Ashes to Ashes” groove, then stirs in Star Trek –era sound effects and lots of placid falsetto. “Every Night” plays out like industrial goth surf music. “Darlin’ ” boasts a pulse that is hopelessly addictive. It’s easy to label a record that’s as experimental and all over the map as this one a novelty. But James Pants is no flash in the pan; it’ll stick in your ears for months.

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