Wednesday, August 18, 2010

James Pants - Seven Seals (2009)

Biblical occultism – via Kabbalah – may be the new age fad du jour (although isn’t it getting just a little, well, so noughties?), running the culture fiend through a gauntlet beginning with Dan Brown and ending with Madonna, but that’s not to say that the resurge of interest in Judeo-Christian mystical traditions doesn’t have anything to offer. Before Brown there was Umberto Eco’s labyrinthine Foucault’s Pendulum (Eco argues that Dan Brown himself is, in fact, Eco’s own creation) and after it comes James Pants’ magisterial Seven Seals.

In an unexpected leap from his first album, Welcome, which was much more of a workout in downtempo electro lounge, funk & r’n’b (not to mention the intriguing and inaptly named library music exercise All The Hits), Seven Seals is a concept album exploring Revelations, mysticism and the oc/cult in general. It is to Pants’ credit that he manages to do so while maintaining a light touch, rather than straying into the leaden, satire-ready seriousness of most music dealing with the darker side of the occult. In putting the album together Pants holed up in a cabin for two weeks, and if his cultural reference points are anything like mine then the mood that that created – from Evil Dead to Antichrist – has been shaping here. In other words, the ‘70s synth sleaze which garnished Welcome – reminiscent of Pants’ idol, legendary outsider Gary Wilson – is here transmuted into scuzz, the darkness of exploitation deepening into that of psychological-religious alienation (with gratuitous angst thankfully absent). The forceful fuzzy beats of tracks like I Live Inside An Egg give this album an emotional contrast lacking from Welcome – which, in comparison, seemed altogether a work more promising than fully realized – while the synthesizers which permeate tracks like Thin Moon (the first single, and perhaps the highlight) add touches of gorgeousness tinted with melancholy (here and elsewhere we find distant echoes of the abandoned sensuality and electrofunk touches of Welcome).

In evoking these moods, one might think of the noughties post-punk revival (guitars are indeed in evidence here, and Joy Division has been frequently mentioned in reviews), and the recent flowering of the rediscovery of minimal wave. Both of those tendencies are definitely present, but both the vehicle of the concept album (always a risk, but one which pays off here), and the music itself, mean that this is a work of reinterpretation rather than imitation. In terms of a synthesizer synthesis, the other major point of reference here, both musically and thematically, is Bruce Haack’s seminal Electric Lucifer – although here we are dealing not so much with powerlove as a Totentanz. On the topic of genre, while I hesitate to use the phrase ‘witch house,’ fst becoming as reviled a term as ‘chillwave,’ in the combination of lo-fi synthesizers and DIY occultist imagery (in the album art no less than the lyrics) this album definitely picks up on that trend, but again, without the pretension or purposeful obscurantism which can be dangers of ‘witch house’ in particular and the ‘instant genres’ of the blog house age in general.

Ultimately these seven seals, as a counterpart to a half hour silence in heaven, are a heavenly forty minutes on earth.

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