Anyone who’s ever bought records has at some point in their youth been dazzled by the album cover art d’une certaine époque—the provocative collision of bare chests, candelabras, coke panic, Dacron bodysuits, winged beasts (is that a Pegasus?) and power Afros that make the ’70s seem like a super chic and obscure art party in Newark—only to be disappointed later by the comparative listlessness of the music itself. Because these records rarely live up to the impossible promise of their covers, they are doomed to the shelf of dead vinyl punchlines. But who knows, maybe they would’ve hooked us on their own merits eventually, if only we had a smidge more patience or imagination.
James Pants (né Singleton) has plenty of both, having lingered long enough in the sounds of the thrift store record bin to become a musical shape-shifter himself. As a kid he played drums in the marching and jazz bands at school, and later, in a garage band. He also made beats, taught himself other instruments and collected whatever records he could get his hands on. “I think the future of music is always in the records you can find for a dollar,” Pants says. “For awhile everybody was really into ’60s funk music and record collectors were spending insane amounts of money on that stuff, so I was priced out of the genre. I began buying ’80s records because I could afford them. And then, all of a sudden, ’80s boogie-funk records are super cool and I can’t afford those. So I start buying the new age records because they’re still a dollar. And now it’s happening with new age. I don’t know if it’s the zeitgeist or if people are all poor and buying cheap records.”
For his latest release, Love Kraft, Pants, who’s now based in Cologne, Germany, pulls inspiration from another kind of cult classic. “I think this one started with Twin Peaks,” he says. “The town where it was shot isn’t far from where I use to live in Washington, and the Twin Peaks sound—the prom-gone-wrong, creepy smalltown rock-and-roll motorcycle vibe—really appealed to me,” he says. With that in mind, he took to his lab to capture the loamy Pacific Northwest weirdness of Lynch’s show via distorted guitars, keyboard blips, driving drums and spooked vocals. Ghosts of eras past float through the record: Frankie Valli, Kevin Shields, early Prince. But in keeping with the spirit of its source material, there is a whiff of camp, songs about psycho stalker girls and being broke but still getting laid.
Love Kraft marks a big departure from the astral/new wave/boogie jams of Pants’ 2008 album Welcome, but coherence has never really been his bag. “I always want every record to sound totally different, which may be a bad thing from a marketing standpoint,” he admits. Not surprisingly, he’s debating some diverse directions for his next project. “I really want to do a relaxation record, a journey of two long 20-minute songs. I was thinking either that or a Dune soundtrack.”