James Pants: Welcome

[28 May 2008]

By Andrew Martin

Welcome could not have come at a better time. New wave-revivalists are popping up everywhere. And electronic dance music has been thriving as a result, both as a genre and as an influence to acts like Crystal Castles and James Pants, Stones Throw’s newest left-fielder.

Pants, who hails from Spokane, Washington, first met head Stones Throw’er Peanut Butter Wolf in 2001. PBW was DJing and Pants, with his prom date at his side, approached the producer/DJ. He asked if he could take PBW record shopping and Pants has been a member of the Stones Throw roster ever since. Although he started out as an intern, the multi-instrumentalist began making a name for himself on the Chrome Children compilations. And if you have had a chance to hear those tracks, you know that Pants is right at home on this label.

After offering samplings of his retro-dance numbers, Pants crafted his aptly-titled debut album, Welcome. Clocking in at just over 42 minutes, the record is the equivalent of Madlib being locked inside a DeLorean with its flux capacitor ready for time travel. Yes, I mean that kind of DeLorean. Hey PBW, how about a Pants versus Madlib album? I get the feeling both of them could create something both innovative and accessible. But I digress. The music here is a dizzying mixture of hip-hop’s meager beginnings and, as previously mentioned, new wave. The boom-bap is there, but it’s used subtly, as the reverb-rich synths dominate. Take “Crystal Lite” for example. With its simplistic keyboards and disco drums, the track just oozes with ‘80s nostalgia. And Deon Davis’s soulful guest vocals make the travel back in time complete.

Then there is the more hip-hop heavy lead single “Cosmic Rapp”. Pants takes this time to show off best Mantronix impression, minus any actual rapping. The early electro-hop production is there, though, and Pants pulls it off (no pun intended, I promise). Also notable is the MF DOOM-esque “Good Things”, which sounds like a left-over beat from MM…FOOD?. One of the most impressive tracks here, however, is the opener, “Theme From Paris”. Each and every part of this song works. Not only is it the perfect way to start the album, but the drums, which bang and crash behind the spacey synths, are absolutely perfect. It’s just rare that you find such lush drums on an album of this kind.

The problem with Welcome is that it suffers from a lack of variety. But, if you’re into the electro-dance scene, that might not bother you. As someone removed from that crowd, however, many of the tracks blend together. Besides the same-y nature of the tracks, some of them come off as filler material. In particular, tracks like the uninspiring and flat-out dull “My Girl” and “Green Rivers”, which just has too much going on, mar Pants’s solid debut.

This is an album both hipsters and ‘80s-lovers could dance to together, which would be both ironic and, in its own strange way, beautiful. Although it would be a stretch to say Pants is transcending time here, he has definitely created something fresh, catchy, and, most importantly, enjoyable. And seeing how he is only in his mid-20s and signed to one of underground hip-hop’s best labels, I am sure we will be seeing a lot more of Mr. Pants soon.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/james-pants-welcome/