By Melina Glusac, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 3, 2014
If anyone’s the king of dance-y dub, it’s the enigmatic, gruffly-voiced DJ Calvin Harris. Radio listeners know him from that inescapable, unexpected hit “Feel So Close” and, more recently, “Summer.” These pleasant, harmless techno grooves are exactly what Harris brings on his newest release of happy-go-lucky club jams, Motion. So the album lives up to expectations — but it doesn’t exceed them.
Tunes like “Summer” and “Under Control” have already peaked on the U.K. and U.S. charts. The beautifully atmospheric “Slow Acid” was also previously released prior to the album. These songs are not necessarily the strongest on the album, but they’ve lived up to their hit potential. “Pray to God,” Harris’s killer collaboration with the bad-ass, all-female rock-pop group HAIM, could also be a smash; its fusion of great beats, cool synths and guitar build-up à la Stevie Nicks’s “Edge of Seventeen” leaves the listener wanting more.
The only rap on the album, “Open Wide” with Big Sean, is stellar — Sean’s witty, laid-back, cocky lyrics blend well with Harris’s perfect techno accompaniment. This isn’t the case with the other collabs, though, and the ones with the most hype tend to fall the flattest. “Outside,” featuring Ellie Goulding, is blissfully unoriginal — a formulaic track laced with Goulding’s signature soulful-whispery-mouse-on-crack vocals. The strength of the synths and the epic-ness of the drop overpower Goulding by miles. A track like this needs someone like Mariah Carey to power through the excess.
So many of Motion ’s songs plummet into the depths of familiarity, the signature-Calvin-Harris, typical-EDM hole. “Together,” featuring Gwen Stefani, doesn’t deviate from the norm at all — it’s repetitive and difficult to separate from ditties like “Faith” and “Love Now.” Harris doesn’t allow Gwen a chance to show her punky flavor at all. Instead, she’s trapped behind a“dub”blegum pop number with a melody so simple Britney Spears could sing it just as effectively. No doubt there.
The album hits a sultry, intimate spot for a few minutes with “Ecstasy.” This track, unmatched by any others, is a ballad etched with spotless lead vocals and soft techno insertions that don’t get overwhelming. Harris has the listener on the edge of their seat, basking in the initially jarring, gentle light of the song and wondering if a drop is ever going to come. It doesn’t (thank goodness). When it comes to music, the benefits of straying from the status quo are infinite; Harris should’ve included more of this inventiveness.
“Blame” with John Newman is decent, once again steered by the power of a strong male vocalist. Newman’s soul is undeniable and the song shines a little bit more than the others because of it. Other tracks — “It Was You” — fade into the electronic dust.
Of the three all-instrumental, no vocal tracks, “Slow Acid” is the darkest, most futuristic and strongest. It weaves and takes some unexpected melodic turns, unlike “Burnin” (with R3hab) and “Overdrive” (with Ummet Ozcan), which are unendingly boring.
The biggest upset is Harris and newcomer Tinashe’s “Dollar Signs,” another characteristic jam. The listener yearns for something great, something to match the effortlessly fly vibes of Tinashe’s first hit, “2 On.” But “Dollar Signs” is so confused, complete with a huge, hardcore drop that mismatches Tinashe’s cutesy, chill vocals in the verses.
All of it — all of Motion — is current. There are dollar signs in Calvin Harris’ future. But he shouldn’t be under the impression that he’s acquiring that green from being good. It’s all just catchy shit.