Ian James’s latest release Human Casualty is one fun album. Loaded with things that appeal to the ear, Human Casualty has fun in its own way, not copying or imitating any known genres or idioms. Granted, James uses guitar, low end, and drums or drum programming. He just utilizes them in a different way. As composer, the artist already has a half dozen recordings under his belt so this disc flows seamlessly with experience.
James has a pop sensibility that gives his songs a cool urgency. His title track spells this out clearly. “Human Casualty” finds James singing in a plaintive, moody vocal approach that makes his sustains sound artful and easeful. The listener gets a strong sense of the artist going somewhere with deliberate planning. A neurotic guitar phrase continues into infinity as James states his case.
“Destiny” gets its strength from the lead guitar phrase that runs through it like rafting through rapids. The guitar’s melodic phrase has many inner currents keeping it vital, and it runs into many different tributaries. It is almost aloof to the rest of the song, and that somehow makes the whole thing come alive.
“Its Not Everyday” gets a bounce in its step from a subtle shift in its beat pattern. The drumming puts an extra step in there that makes it just funky enough for the compressed guitar sound to get more riffy and for James to prance around. He sings the verses in a just strange enough to be interesting and his chorus is hooky as hell. This tune could have gone to the top of the charts back in the 1980s, alongside Soft Cell and OMD.
As composer, James is full of ideas and techniques that turn each of his compositions into something unique. “Getting In My Way (Fett Mix)” is a perfect example of this. James has his guitar racing even faster here than on the previous tracks while his drums play with a superhuman dexterity. This opens the sound up to many possibilities. While a listener would need bionic legs to dance to this number, James infuses it with enough energy to inspire you to try.
“Sell Another Day Away” has an appealing sonic texture. One guitar keeps pumping out the frenetic melody while a more rhythmic guitar underneath creates a fantastic contrast. That architecture inspires a strange pace in James’s rhythm section. It’s as if the drum pattern takes its time while everything goes crazy, full speed ahead over it, resulting in another wild sonic texture.
“No Harm” finds James pacing his vocal at a more standard pop-rock tempo. This brings out his vibrant lyrical descriptions as he sings in a slightly lower register to make for some seriously good ear candy. As a singer, James knows how to make his voice the focal point amidst a swirl of noisy, nervous guitars and an infectious groove track. He drags out a verse while infusing it with handsome energy and tension.
James adds even more guitar edge to “These Games,” a dark, pop-rock ode to lost love. Listeners will get a sense of being on a dangerous car ride, driving way too fast, going up on two wheels around the corners, briefly airborne, then racing again. It’s just really cool how James has electric guitars rocking out over a seemingly disinterested beat.
“Intermission” announces itself with a swaggering guitar line and a pulsating low end run as the drums punctuate the instrumental with a surefooted beat. It soon fades out before “Are You Ready” slides in with its electronic jungle groove. Guitar and bass do battle inside a mad dance of dominance. While that tension mounts, James calls on his listeners to get down and party to his mad, driving urgency.
“In Control” jumps right in with a snappy guitar line, twitchy beat, and James’s usual hyper-active vocal line. His brief shout-sing over the brief interval of guitar notes is oddly appealing. Something snaps then James really struts his stuff with guitar grinds before returning mercilessly to his original technique. Here, it’s the not so subtle shifts in guitar and vocal expression that powers the song, and it makes you want to listen closely to get deeper into what James is constructing sonically.
“Trans Lunar Injection” is closer to a traditional rock and roll beat while the rhythm and lead guitars stab into the sonic texture beneath James’s oozing vocal line. He just drawls it all out in his verses in an odd timbre he has, and you feel, once again, that you’re in the hands of someone expert at driving in all gears. This one, too, has a hooky chorus built for new wave radio of the 1980s.
Suddenly, bonus track “Black Cloud” follows with its poppy guitar riffs, an 80s drum track, and James’s odd vocal injected into the mix, like an aloof presence who decides to briefly chime in with dark observations before becoming reticent once again. Second bonus track “How Bizarre” sounds like another great hit from the 1980s. I can almost picture Gary Numan or Ric Ocasek singing the two word chorus, “how bizarre,” over the subtle guitar progression beneath it. James closes out his disc with a third bonus track, “Eating Crickets.” It rocks right out with edgy guitar, knobby low end, and sophisticated high-hat and cymbal work, part rock song and part soundtrack from action movie high intensity scene.
James is certainly onto a new, fun, catchy sound. His beats, grooves, and electric guitar flourishes combine into something that just might go beyond an underground cult following if the music buying public opens its mind at this time and James plays it well.