Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 Albums of the Year: Seven Davis Jr. - Universes

[The second in my installments covering the year of 2015 in music. Peep the year-end list over at LUNA music, and read the first entry covering Bitchin' Bajas Transporteur here.]

Seven Davis. Jr. – Universes

If you know me even a little – you know I'm not (and have never been) a singles guy. I'm an album guy to the max. When I listen, it's to albums in order (with the lone exception being Amelia's iPod on shuffle on occasional car trips); whether that's on vinyl, CDs (hey, those are still a thing), digital (90% of my hard drive...), or streaming (I recommend ripping-and-uploading to Google Music rather than Spotify). So when I admit to being lured into an album by a single single, hey, that's high praise.

The single in question is "Good Vibes" by UK-via-West-Coast house-electro-funk impresario Seven Davis Jr., off his Ninja Tune debut Universes. I'd be remiss to not mention "Good Vibes" features a(n actual?) Brit, Julio Bashmore (nom de plume of producer Matt Walker) as the co-writer and lead vocal. Built on a thin drum sample (with conga!) and pitch-shifted keyboard loop, it doesn't take long to bring in the high-hat-happy house beat and funky bass. Bashmore's man-on-the-street vocal take, lax as hell (backed by cartoonish, lower-octave BGVs), makes the track, though – that and fat kick drum in the production, along with the killer breaks punctuated with wobbly synth. It begs to be blasted on, bass up, car doors and/or ass shaking.

Universes leverages the uptempo four-on-the-floor vibe with success on "Sunday Morning" and "Everybody Too Cool" – the former with a frenetic, repeated mantra that drills into your brain only to be relieved by spurts of wild, filtered keyboard soloing, while the latter laments the lack of dancing (hey, I've been in that room before) over a drum-line, loose-snare-sounding, hand-clapping beat while Davis, channeling his inner Prince, reaches for (and kills!) the occasional falsetto line over just a touch of synth/organ noodling, and a killer, if tastefully short, overdriven keyboard solo. "Mister DJ don't play this in the club / Cuz people don't dance no more / Everybody too cool for school." Not dancing to this jam would be a sin.

There's bloat here, though – the album is theoretically tied into a narrative package wherein Seven is communicating with a retro-robot-voiced computer, but these skits are so short as to be meaningless, though they do lend a George Clinton-esque vibe to the proceedings, one that Davis builds on by chameleon-ing his way through a number of stylistic changes, with varied results.

"Fighters" is the best of the (odd) bunch, a dub-specked ballad against the cult of violence and confrontation – not only a social statement, but just a damn good song, light oscillators/static providing noisy texture as Davis navigates the spacious track (that reverbed hand-clap, though!) with a soulful vocal take. After six months with this record, this may be the song I return to most. There's funk here, too, though not as 80s-shiny as Dam-Funk: "Try Me (I'll Funk You)" is as close as you'll get to a funk-battle-song, though it drags a bit on the back-end. "Be A Man" pairs an active, melodic bass-line over a speedy reggae up-beat – it's plaintive-sounding, about as yearning as a beat-forward, funky number gets.

But if too much adventurousness is Davis' vice – I'll take it. His debut is rife with earworms, melodic sensibility, and his own strange spin on future-electronic-funky-house-dub jams. Universes makes me think there are two paths forward – an ultra-refined, uber-pop record pulling from his various 70s & 80s musical heroes and mixing in modern electronic sensibilities; or a really far-out album that reaches for and achieves outer space, a record that screams indulgence. Honestly? I'd be down for both.

[This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox. Today's prompt: Do you hear what I hear? Tell us about a sound. What do you hear in your house or at work?]

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