Spokane is in the house! Yes, James Pants (aka James Singleton), a gangly looking fellow with but a wisp of facial hair, is from east of the mountains. To most of the Seattleites I find myself around each day, Spokane is somewhat `backwater.’ Anything east of the Cascades is mired in a world that time forgot. Now, they know as well as I know that it just isn’t true, but, as always, there’s a little bit of fact behind every fiction. In the case of James Pants, this young lad’s music is indeed mired in a world that time forgot, but delightfully so.
Listening to Pants’ debut, Welcome, one gets the sense that music for James started around the time of hip-hop’s late ’70s birth and ended abruptly in 1996 after the release of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing. And that’s not a bad thing. Pants’ music is a hodge-podge bouillabaisse of electro-funk, blues, soul, hip-hop, disco and bubblegum pop. Somehow, like a fine gourmet chef, he makes these separate tastes palatable in one presentation. It’s all here for connoisseurs of various styles of dance music from the 20th century. Robot voices, video game blips and bleeps, Casio keyboards, scratching, break beats and drum machine programming. It’s as if Prince were hopping in his hydraulic Olds in front of the Main Street Electrical Parade’s salute to breakdancing.
At times, Welcome gets bogged down in its own nostalgic morass, but various tracks shine like beacons in the gloaming. “Crystal Lite” plays like a Wham! track fronted by an R&B gospel singer while “We’re Through” shares moments of Whodini and a vocal akin to Mick Jagger’s in “Emotional Rescue.” The repetitive nature of the homemade beats behind “My Tree” made me feel as if I were back in my middle school era room, playing Zelda or Mario and trying desperately to get to that elusive next level. The revisionist funk of “Good Things” is another standout track, grooving along to a deep bass line, while remaining short enough to avoid boredom. The very last comparison that comes to mind in listening to Welcome is to Moby. While their sounds are not particularly similar, Moby made a similar move in releasing Play, an album devoted to plumbing the depths of blues, roots and gospel, and updating those artifacts with a modern electro facelift.
Pants is doing the same for several different styles of music, whereas most hip-hop or dance music has been isolated to one genre, such as disco, funk or jazz. Pants is an equal opportunity lifter, changing up his game from one song to the next. And while not making anything particularly fresh or original, is revitalizing the idea of homemade dance music, using old gear, old themes, and old styles with a fresh new attitude. As it appears that summer has finally arrived in Washington, after a long spell of rain and gloom, the patio dance parties can begin, and remember, for gosh sakes, put some Pants on!