One of the great questions that remains about the pandemic is how we will all emerge from this lengthy bout of hibernation and isolation.
We are nearing the one-year anniversary of this involuntary quarantine, a hiatus that has prompted unexpected opportunities for self-reflection, growth and maturation. It has also been maddeningly inert, depriving individuals of their favorite pastimes and robbing them of friendships and social structures that brought meaning to their lives.
In short, there is a very thin line between those who blossom into a becalmed guru and those who devolve into a frantic mess. Hell, those descriptions could apply to the same person, just on different days.
While he would surely not call himself a guru, few people can claim as much professional and artistic growth from this tumultuous period as Chris Adams, the creative mainstay behind Pendant. The Los Angeles-via-Oakland musician has completely revamped his approach in the past year, transforming from a shoegaze impresario obsessed with guitars to an Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) aesthete — a master at conjuring ebullient and otherworldly sounds from his laptop.
He has been one of the fortunate few to be invigorated by this pandemic. It has truly brought about his Come To Jesus moment. Or, to put it more accurately, his Come To Aphex Twin moment.
“With the freefall that occurred with the pandemic, it kind of dawned on me that I wouldn’t really have to devote any allegiance to the way I’ve been doing music for all these years,” said Adams, who lived in Oakland for 10 years before recently moving back to his hometown of Los Angeles. “Everything sort of fell away. There were no timelines, no goals. For the first time, I didn’t really have to think about the game of indie rock, and that was incredibly freeing.”
Adams latest batch of songs, which he is hoping to release on a new label later this year, reveal an astounding evolution. Whereas previously he was hemmed in by the constraints of guitar-based rock, his latest creations are boundless experiments, fearlessly exploring elements of hip-hop, UK Garage, acid house, disco and electronica.
His 2019 release as Pendant — the criminally overlooked Through a Coil (we’ll explain in a minute why it flew under the radar) — was a celebration of the Stone Roses, Oasis, My Bloody Valentine and other early 90s Brit-pop and noise rock progenitors. These new songs reflect a much more eclectic roster of artists, evoking sample legends the Avalanches, trip-hop maestros Massive Attack, outsider artist Oneohtrix Point Never and the previously mentioned IDM mainstay Aphex Twin. The leap forward is shocking — it’s like if Radiohead went straight from The Bends to Kid A, skipping Ok Computer altogether.
“I have always been inspired by Aphex Twin and Oneohtrix Point Never and the Prodigy,” said Adams. “But I was always kind of in this cycle of having a guitar in hand and touring and playing more shows. That just kept things in the motion of making rock music, because those would be the type of songs I could produce immediately. The dirty work and nuts and bolts of experimentation into making dance music seemed really daunting and intimidating. But having more time to work on these songs, coupled with the experience of recording my prior album, really made it more feasible than I thought. By the time the pandemic hit, I had a process down and it was really intoxicating to find myself immersed in those sounds.”
Along with shifting away from guitars — although he has not abandoned them altogether—the greatest difference in Adam’s new songs is his commitment to embracing strange filters and modulations of his voice. On one track, a woozy, ambient number called “Laid in Orchids,” Adams vocals are lilting and breezy. In “Static Dream” his delivery is militant and aggressive, befitting the rave-like tempo of the song, and on “Blue Mare” he sounds drugged out and somnambulant.
The biggest surprises come on numbers like “Thorn,” a Beastie Boys-meets-Sleigh Bells noise rock track that is all stomping rage (interpolated by a haunting sample from N’Sync’s “Tearing Up My Heart,” yeah you heard that right) and “Contract,” where Adams unabashedly conjures a Death Grips’-style approach to visceral rapping.
“It was pretty scary to think about doing — I had to sort of sit down and ask myself if I wanted to be another white guy putting rap music out into the world, because, you know, the lineage of white people rapping isn’t exactly stellar,” said Adams of “Contract.” “But I had been obsessing over the Beastie Boys lately and I really wanted to create something like “Sabotage”—something that was so full of life and energy. So to make it real for me, I needed to make it really chaotic and really loud and brutal.”
Whether harnessing that aggressive kind of energy or channeling a more wistful persona, all of the new Pendant songs are complex, multifaceted endeavors — collages of leftfield samples, dreamy synths, syncopated drum machines and contorted sonic manipulations. It all feels like the equivalent of 21st century field recordings — a disarming soundtrack to today’s schizophrenic modern thought.
That is one way to say that the music—as of now, Adams put together 11, not-yet-professionally-mastered songs—represent a bold new vision for Pendant. It is a vision shaped in large part by the unexpected freedom brought on by the pandemic, but also from a potentially derailing professional development that has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
On November 9, 2019, Adams released Through a Coil on Tiny Engines, a highly-respected indie label based in North Carolina. Literally, the next day, musician Stevie Knipe of the band Adult Mom aired allegations of shady contracting breaches and lack of royalty payments from the label, leading to other accusations from groups signed to the imprint. The fallout was immediate and devastating. Almost overnight, Tiny Engines folded, leaving many artists — including Adams — in limbo.
As the label lurched unpredictably following its demise, Through a Coil was removed from streaming services for months. Adams only recently completed negotiations with the label owners to buy back the master rights to his album, which is now streaming on Spotify and other services. Adams said he barely knew the owners of the label—Chuck Daley and Will Miller—and had actually never met them personally, so the collapse of the business didn’t really represent some great betrayal to him. In fact, it freed him up to pursue the more adventurous approach he is currently taking.
“I’m grateful they took a shot on me, and it’s unfortunate the way things went down,” said Adams. “But we were able to resolve things without having any really salty feelings. And what happened there is the reason that I’m sitting with the music I now have in front of me. Everything kind of led to this, so I can’t really complain about it.”
With that experience in hand, Adams said he feels much more prepared and informed as he embarks on his next step of engagement with prospective record labels. He’s already had a series of highly promising conversations, and he’s said a few labels are particularly enthusiastic about releasing his material. He’s hoping to put out the new album this year, ideally between July and September.
“It has been this crazy kind of creative journey,” said Adams. “Had you asked me when I put out the last record, which was basically a year ago, that by now, I would have a full record that I self-produced on my laptop, I just wouldn’t have believed it. I could have never predicted the manner in which these songs came about, but I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished.”