As tributes roll in for Philippe Zdar, the member of Cassius who died a few days prior, it’s hard not to conclude that he was more than a little underrated in life. Cassius never rode French house all the way to the top in the manner of Daft Punk, and Zdar didn’t achieve the pop crossover success that Mirwais did with Madonna, instead working with artists like Beastie Boys and Phoenix and building up a more eclectic ouvre. But death is as good a time as any for reappraisals, and Cassius’ new album Dreems delivers plenty of food for thought with infectious house grooves and pop leanings.
The album is almost entirely mixed and designed for such seamless transitions that examining the first half as individual songs has dubious merit. Fame, however, stands out with swooning vocals and a somewhat anxious groove, as done the opening track’s big piano notes. Rock Non Stop takes things right back to the ’90s, featuring a repetitive vocal hook and chords reminiscent of Marshall Jefferson’s Move Your Body, while Cause oui! keeps these vibes going with a free-associative Mike D verse (“I like Liza Minnelli / not Gaga, don’t tell me / that douchebag Martin Shkreli / like Putin, go bankrupt”)
The second half of the album contains more standalone tracks and more stylistic variation. W18 is a very impressive update of their 2002 track I’m A Woman. Calliope takes a jittering, syncopated synth figure and loops it over and over to hypnotic effect as a gummy bassline accompanies, while the title track features suitably dreamy (or dreemy) vocals and a mid-tempo beat that is very contemporary in its ’80s nostalgia. The album then ends as grandly as it begins, the plodding beat of Walking In The Sunshine providing an anthemic quality to the shimmering synth chords and Owlle’s impassioned vocals.
Dreems is not a perfect album – too much of the opening stretch is spent in a transitory stage between one interesting moment and another – but it is sequenced with remarkable attention to detail for a very cohesive 50-minute experience. This album has been confirmed as the last Cassius project, and its release comes at the worst possible time for Zdar’s creative partner Boom Bass, but hopefully he can gain some solace from people’s enjoyment of this work, a testament to their freewheeling style and and sense of fun which has lasted through the decades.