Hawker M. James
"Long Playing Lo-Fidelity"
Before we dive into this week's record, allow me to clear up any misconceptions about my fascination with and affection for the mighty lo-fi. Despite what you may have heard, lo-fi is not a lack of quality, but rather it's an added quality, a veneer. Some shun it and treat it as extraneous noise or a sign of poor production. The noise isn't the point, but the song is as it wallows in the random sounds that have nothing to do with a polished sound revered and adhered to by the gentry.
If this is the side of the street you cruise, then Hawker M. James's new LP, "Long Playing Lo-Fidelity," is a big ole slab of heaven. James's songwriting is brilliant; it's classic transistor-pop reminiscent of David Bowie, Roxy Music, Nikki Sudden, or The Young Fresh Fellows. And the production, recorded on a beat-up, old 4-track, smacks of Speedball Baby. The lo-fi component, beautiful in its own right, illustrates the songs to the listener without running the risk of being distractingly too beautiful (yeah, that's a problem).
James has always toyed with pop, and even a bit of electronica, as exhibited by his previous work as Mikey James and with The Demos — proud papas of a beautiful new CD themselves. The Demos are all over this recording, by the way. There are 14 cohesive cuts on "Long Playing Lo-Fidelity," and not a clunker to be found in the lot. And when the mix goes into the red, the fidelity has nowhere to hide. You can feel it all over.
Cuts like "Human Blood" have pummeling drums with a utilitarian cardboard aesthetic. And the vocal distortion on the a cappella joint "The Elephant Stomp" ain't noise, Jack. It's the sound of it winning you over; it's the sound of you giving in. There's some lush keyboard work here that would sound just fine in a more conventional recording, but again the lo-fi steps in with its own substance combining into multiple layers. The arrangements are together but not wound too tight. None of it is perfect, and in a lo-fi lover's head, that is just perfect. — BY FRANK DE BLASE