There’s a lot of time traveling on Seven, the latest release from French sound-explorer, DJ Cam. Plenty of moments on the 10-track album recall his excellent mid-Nineties output, but very few, if any, surpass it. It’s an album that will benefit hugely from a straight front-to-back listen. But if you’re going to defy the order of the track list here, your experience will be hit or miss. Of course, because I can’t tell you which songs you like or don’t like, your experience is going to be like that anyway. For what it’s worth, listening right through will give you the chance to weigh the sounds you already associate with Cam against any growth you do notice. Seven is a moody piece of work, something only an individual could make, and jumping around is going to make it seem more erratic.
It starts with the comfortable “California Dreaming,” the album’s single most track reminiscent of Cam’s Mad Blunted Jazz era, although “A Loop” is a close second. “Dreaming” isn’t nearly as stoned or elusive as 1996, and it floats along cool bass, spacey effects and drums (brushed hi-hats) that don’t do the rest of the beat justice. It is redeemed in other ways: the dark synth crunches and the ominous string arrangement at the end are high points, injecting cold worry into the previously relaxed instrumental.
You listen to DJ Cam for the moods, or soundscapes he creates—whether they’re blunted or not—and this album works to channel a wide variety. Strings play a major role throughout, establishing and tying together feelings that, over 45 minutes, produce something of a thematic thread. Other aspects that help to unify the sound—in that they’re appearances are consistent—are the guest vocalists (particularly Stateless’ Chris James) and the electronic beeps and blips, the aforementioned “spacey effects.”
Cam’s three tracks with James, whose singing most clearly mirrors Thom Yorke (“Swim”) but at times can resemble Chris Martin, are mostly grey and somber. The standout of the collaborations is “Ghost.” With James at his most soulful—sounding like Justin Timberlake on the chorus—the track reflects its title well with a stuttering piano, hollow percussion and soft, layered moans.
Overall, Seven is a calm and medium-impact album, with no big leaps made forward. Cam seems to wander, and the indecisive feel permeates many tracks, most evidently on “Fontainebleau.” The DJ seems to struggle between receiving his past and re-creating it. Understandably, he tries to keep one ear to the future—this is the ear that made the Radiohead-inspired “Swim,” not the old-school “Dreamcatcher.” Too often, it seems, Cam lands in the middle ground, audibly torn by his own aspirations. While he has made his name blending and mixing genres and styles, DJ Cam’s Seven falls somewhere between 1996’s Substances and 2000’s Loa Project Vol. 2.