Calvin Harris ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1’ – Review

17 Jul

Calvin Harris’ recent run of fine form has been surprising to say the least. Earlier this year he put out the EDM regurgitation ‘My Way’, then a couple of months later, seemingly out of nowhere, came ‘Slide’, the Frank Ocean collaboration that bested anything contained on Ocean’s own ‘Blonde’. It was logical to look past Harris and credit Ocean with this song’s success – after all, this type of graceful melody and effortless vocals were already familiar to fans of ‘Chanel Orange’. Of course, appreciation was shown to Harris for coaxing Ocean out of his indulgent and pretentious phase and into making his purest pop expression in ages, but the plaudits went to Frank.

A month later came the Pharrel/Ariana Grande/Young Thug collaboration ‘Heatwave’ and it was suddenly harder to look past Calvin Harris’s own contribution. Of course Ariana sounded as beautiful as ever, Young Thug turned in his most memorable verses to date and Pharell’s Stevie Wonder impression was on point, but more than that, it sounded like a personal achievement in substance over style for Calvin Harris. Third single, and Future collaboration, ‘Rollin’, with its remarkably lucid (for Future at least) verses and catchy chorus, confirmed that the first singles weren’t flukes and Harris was indeed on to a winning formula. This is borne out by the album as a whole: ten largely glorious, lightly touched pop nuggets that sparkle in the summer sun. He described ‘Funk Wav Bounces’ as ‘feel INCREDIBLE’ music and it’s hard go argue.

The drops have been, err dropped, and the arrangements sound sleeker and more nuanced. Bluntly speaking, Harris seems less interested in dragging you to the dance floor and more interested in seducing the listener. The beats are less obnoxious and more slinky, the synths are less siren-like and more shimmery. True to the title, there’s a G-Funk lilt to the record that makes it the natural soundtrack for a summer barbecue. It’s not dissimilar to what Daft Punk achieved on ‘Random Access Memories’, if that album has ten ‘Get Lucky’s’ and less of the proggy detours. Every song is expertly designed to put a smile on your face.

Calvin Harris has given us glimpses of his true capability before: his often overlooked debut ‘Acceptable In the 80s’ was a fairly insubstantial but enjoyable blend of electro and indie influences, not dissimilar to what LCD soundsystem or Hot Chip were doing at the time. Second album ‘Ready For the Weekend’ was more forgettable; a 90’s house revival record short on nuance and big on beats. After that he transformed in to a full on chart monster, where shades and subtleties became increasingly difficult to find. Undeniable bangers like ‘We Found Love’ and ‘Dance Wiv Me’ lost impact when lined up alongside each other on the albums or a DJ’s playlist. For every ‘We Found Love’ there was a ‘What You Came For’, for every ‘Dance Wive Me’, a ‘Holiday’. As other producers became unfathomably infatuated with noxious elements he was largely responsible for popularising – the drop, for example – he started being blamed for the inescapable rise of EDM.

Maybe it’s this pressure to perform to a standard he set for others that has made him reassess his music’s purpose, but more likely it’s the realisation that big beat EDM ran its course a while ago. His last album ‘Motion’ was fittingly called because Harris really was going through the motions – and with diminishing returns (two songs failed to reach the top 10 – unheard of for him). Call him what you like but he’s always been an astute trend spotter and on ‘Funk Wav Bounces’ he wisely sidesteps the one he started in the first place.

Perhaps he feels that as he’s taken responsibility for his music’s failures in the past, he now deserves credit for its success. Therefore he rightfully makes a big deal about his exact role on ‘Funk Wav Bounce’. In the extensive liner notes he credits each and every instrument he personally played on the record – and there’s a lot of them. He’s also uploaded videos to YouTube, meticulously demonstrating how each song was constructed. One of the negative side effects of this promotion strategy is that it reveals the conceit and naked ambition behind each song. In its weaker moments you suspect that Harris has merely swapped one successful but tired formula for a more credible, but equally popular, one.  ‘Feels’, with a phoned in Pharrel verse and Katy Perry chorus, is too on the nose for its own good; Harris’ calculating intent suddenly feeling uncomfortably transparent. Similarly the Mark Ronson-aping ‘Cash Out’, with none too subtle appearances from Schoolboy Q and PARTYNEXTDOOR, and the vacuous ‘Skirt On Me’ with Nicki Minaj, try far too hard to attain Song of the Summer status.

But of course this is the bed Calvin Harris has made for himself – he’s ultimately only as good as the people he collaborates with. This must be grating. In pitchfork’s review of ‘Slide’ they barely mentioned Harris and dished all the praise out to Frank Ocean, yet if the song had failed you can guarantee where the blame would have lay. To most listeners, Calvin Harris is an irrelevance; a faceless musical manipulator who you wouldn’t be able to identify in a police lineup. But considering the amount of work that he personally put into ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1’, you have to conclude that in future he will want more than that. He won’t want to rely on collaborators who will ultimately either steal the glory or ruin his instrumentals. He co-wrote, and was the sole player and producer, of every song here and has managed to make dozens of diverse talents sound like natural bedfellows whilst maintaining a singular aesthetic style. If you think that’s easy then listen to DJ Khaled’s sprawling and tasteless new album to see how badly it can go wrong. Make no mistakes, Calvin Harris deserves credit for ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1’ and if he doesn’t get it then on Vol.2 he may decide on giving himself a more prominent role.

7.5/10

image

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: