Chris Dave isn’t a name that typically comes to mind when you think of pop music. Yet listeners of mainstream music have been hearing his work on the radio for years. Dave is the man behind the beats of artists ranging from Kenny Garrett and D’Angelo to Adele and Justin Bieber. In Chris Dave and the Drumhedz, the self-titled album put out by Dave on Jan. 26, his ability to capture such a range of style and demonstrate his keenness to sound manifested itself in a groovy, eclectic album.
The first track, “Rocks Crying,” starts off with a distant, echoing whir, an eerie, high-pitched frequency and the sound of a man’s voice on a radio counting a rocket into liftoff. The fuzzy sounds of beeping and transmission signals ease into a groovy beat that launches the album into a head-bopping tune. In the background, the voice of a man summons all the “drumhedz” to the album. This whimsical, intergalactic theme underlies the entirety of the album. It unifies the experimental, ambient sounds with composed beats to create a dynamic album that’s not only an experiment in sound as music, but an exploration into sound as narrative.
The buzzing of retro space transmissions and the despondence of satellitic beepings create an interesting play on the melodies Dave creates. His album is situated heavily around a core R&B style that wavers in different places but ultimately comes back to a rich, soulful place. The vintage noises of the golden era of space exploration, combined with the robustness of his compositions, creates a cozy feeling of nostalgia, while still maintaining a distinctly new, modern sound.
Although Chris Dave and the Drumhedz can’t be comfortably placed into just one stylistic genre, the album is never unfocused. Each of the tracks possesses a definite intention — “Universal Language” has a ‘90s West Coast hip-hop vibe. “Lady Jane” puts a modern twist on a distinctly jazz sound. This range of sound is an impressive feat for any artist, but it’s not unexpected for a musician like Chris Dave. Among drummers, he has long been recognized as one of the greats, with Rolling Stone naming him one of the greatest drummers of all time. As the album flows seamlessly from one track to another — and one style to another — Dave’s vast experience working in countless genres shines through. He brings a new perspective to classic sounds, keeping the tracks unified and fresh.
Nevertheless, the lyricism of the album isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking. It covers the topics of love, pride, loss — typical themes of any album even barely categorizable under the genre of soul. The vocals act more as another instrument in Dave’s composition than a central focus, the exception being the two tracks featuring Anderson .Paak, whose features have brought significant attention to this album. .Paak has an incredibly distinct vocal style with an edge that often outshines the best of instrumentals. Although “Black Hole” and “Clear View” are definitely catchy, it feels as though .Paak and Dave are competing for control over both songs, resulting in a clunky, disorganized sound.
While .Paak takes over on his featured tracks, the album’s strength comes from Dave’s ability to recognize the respective styles of his featured artists. He produces compositions that not only highlight Dave’s technical abilities, but also create an interesting play on the style of each artist featured. In “Sensitive Granite,” Dave’s shaking, looping beats form a lovely complement to Kendra Foster’s dreamy, distant vocals. By drawing on her vocal styling, he adds another layer to the song, tying into the album’s energy of being pulled from a retro, other-dimensional outer space.
Chris Dave’s debut album is filled with rich sound that takes its listeners on a journey through the cosmic ins and outs of music. Chris Dave and the Drumhedz shines as a testament to Dave’s strength as a solo artist.
Annalise Kamegawa covers music. Contact her at [email protected].