Release Date: Jul 24, 2015
Record label: Ninja Tune
Imagine if Prince forsook his current fetish for female-dominated hard rock in favour of showing Jamie xx how a delicious smorgasbord of summer dance styles should really be done. The results might sound something like north California-based DJ/songwriter/producer/singer Seven Davis Jr’s diverse yet cohesive debut. Constructing his own blithely funky edifice on sure foundations from George Clinton (Everybody Too Cool) to D-Train (on the Julio Bashmore-assisted Good Times), Davis Jr seems equally at home amid the brazen pop of Sunday Morning and the way more abstract 10-minute finale Welcome Back.
Houston, Texas native, Californian resident producer, DJ and singer Seven Davis Jr is a man who seemingly can do it all. From a diverse musical background of influences ranging from gospel to jazz via early loves of Burt Bacharach and Frank Sinatra the producer discovered the euphoric ecstasy of dance music as something of a musical epiphany. Forging a connection with early house music’s ethos of positivity, Davis Jr creates his own music within a similar blissed out hope, using his music to espouse a message of freedom of expression, creativity and the power of soul and spirit.
Seven Davis Jr's path to recognition has been a challenging and tortuous one. The Californian is honest about his lost years battling addiction and these experiences have acted as the artistic impetus for 'Universes'.Funk, gospel, house and hip hop all rub shoulders, but what knits it all together is soul, especially on wonky neo-spiritual 'Fighters' and 'Everybody's Too Cool' with its Prince-like stomp. Comparisons to Moodymann, Dilla and Theo Parrish have been forthcoming, but Davis Jr's vista spreads wider.
Seven Davis Jr. spent part of his career ghostwriting for hip-hop groups. On his own records, however, the Houston-born, LA-based vocalist and producer seems to be moved by the spirits of George Clinton, Prince and Todd Edwards. The early works collected on 2013's The Lost Tapes Vol. 1 mini-album ….
For listeners who discovered Seven Davis Jr. via his joyous 2013 single "One", the release of his debut album is cause for celebration. It marks the culmination of a two-year period in which we've had only teasing glimpses—an EP here, a Prince cover there—at his unorthodox take on house and funk. But for the Houston-born, Los Angeles-based musician, Universes marks the completion of a much longer process and a vindication of his methods, as well as a rebuke against those who doubted him along the way.
Ninja Tune really is on a fine run of form at the moment. The label seems to have gone in to overdrive, cherry-picking the best of the best of electronic releases which have just enough approachability about them to ‘crossover’ but have plenty about them to appeal to listeners who would think that the very idea of such a crossover would be a terrible thing. Here with Universes, the debut album from Seven Davis Jr, we have another such hit in what is turning out to be a fantastic year.
There’s nothing new about blowing the dust off an old genre and presenting it as something fresh. For Paloma Faith, Michael Bublé and just about any recent 90s-referencing guitar band, it’s the basis of an entire career. Thankfully singer-producer Seven Davis Jr also updates the styles he is reviving, dragging a mixture of funk swagger and 90s house into the 21st century on his debut.
Seven Davis Jr has finally found a home with Ninja Tune — this, after rejecting several major labels years prior, opting to build and create his musical repertoire in private. The move to a label coincides with the release of his debut full-length, Universes, a seemingly boisterous, almost comedic album featuring guests like Julio Bashmore and Kutmah. His studies in gospel and jazz are evident across Universes, from killer single "Sunday Morning," with its swaths of guitar and clips of drums and booming bass, to the Chet Faker-esque crooning on "Fighters.
Seven Davis Jr.’s music feels less like a mishmash of genres than a missing link between them. Of course, the links between disco, house, funk, jazz and soul have been thoroughly documented, but the Texas-via-L.A.-via-London musician has carved out his own space between scenes, cities and sounds using the sparest of elements. His debut album delivers on the promise of 2013 club hit One, which had the raw energy of a late-night P.A.
Raised in Houston on a diet of everything from The Beatles to Aretha Franklin, Seven Davis Jr. found his way into LA's flourishing house scene in his early adulthood, and uses the influence of both locations to create a sound completely his own. If you heard his February release, 'Wild Hearts/When Somebody Loves You', you'll have picked up the fact that he's a musician as much at home in the past as in the future.