James Ferraro is prolific artist, even by the flood-the-marketplace standards of the noise/rock underground from which he comes. He has produced 30 albums previous to Condo Pets, released last week as an introductory EP to his forthcoming new album ‘Far Side Virtual’. His obsessions have leaned towards the fictional side of American life, how media infiltrates our lives and the impossibility of living an unmediated life, and he’s always worked with pitch-perfect imitation. I saw him live around the time of ‘Nightdolls With Hairspray’, a record themed apparently around hoodlums from some back-of-the-rental-stacks VHS TV movie causing havoc with fushia hairdos, and he took with him pleather-dressed punks to spray aerosols in the audience. His stance is that of the pop artist, perfectly re-enacting The Moment with the enthusiasm of a character actor and playing it for laughs.
It’s screen burn that he’s always dealt with but with his new output, he’s forgotten the blank stare of cable TV that ‘Nightdolls With Hairspray’ played with, and focused on the pixellated hyper-networked void that we all spend so long in front of. What makes him such a crucial artist is his ability to realise the hilarity thereof. Condo Pets is a light, quick, witty work. The song names should give a hint of the sonic palette we’re dealing with – Guess What’s Playing On Carrie Bradshaw’s iPod, Smoothies, Foodies, Flat Screens and Virtuality, Life In A Day. Bright as the primary colours of the Google logo, there are hints at the satisfying pop of a new email, the start-up music of a VAIO laptop, the cutesy compression of an avertorial Vimeo clip. They are also big, big songs – this is a musician so often considered an arty obscurity, but these jams, from Text Bubbles’s pure tones to Saint Prius’s light shimmers, are earworms, instant as an ident.
This is, it has to be stressed, an introduction of a new direction, and acts more as a trailer for the album than an essential record of its own, and for people new to the work of this fascinating artist, I’d suggest holding out for the release of ‘Far Side Virtual’ already one of my favourite records of the year. But for fellow JF obsessives or anyone with a desire to hear tracks that are both prettier and cleverer than much else released this year, it’s one to grab right away.