Calvin Harris strikes pop gold on 'Funk Wav Bounces'

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 - 4:55pm

NOSELL

Columbia Records

 

Having evolved from a techno DJ hailing from Scotland to a Los Angeles based superstar, Calvin Harris has become a familiar name in the world of pop music in recent years. And now, with his fifth studio release, he’s on a mission to take over summer '17 with Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1.

He started early with the release of “Slide” in late February, and it has arguably become the song of the summer so far, due to its catchy rhythm and features of Frank Ocean and Migos, an unlikely yet attention-grabbing combination. Quevo and Offset play surprisingly well off of Frank’s vocals, and Harris’s beat makes me want to get up and dance every time I hear it.

Harris’s most evident strength is using his collaborators’s vocal talents and quirks to his advantage, such as in “Heatstroke,” the second single released off the album. Young Thug’s powerful and recognizable vocals hook the listener in, and between his verses Pharrell and Ariana Grande sing back and forth to one another in the chorus. Their soft melodic voices satisfyingly contrast with Thug’s loud raspy voice. In “Feels,” Harris takes a similar approach, this time with Pharrell leading the vocals. Katy Perry adds additional vocals in the chorus with the catchy lines “Don’t be afraid to catch feels / Ride drop top and chase thrills.” Despite these strong performances though, the song is partially ruined by Big Sean’s closing verse. Harris can only do so much to cover up Big Sean’s poor lyricism, and Sean’s guise that he’s much cooler than he actually is.

The strongest song off the album has to be “Rollin.” Future sounds better here than he does in almost all of the tracks on his recent releases Future and Hendrix. Harris’s dragged out synths and Future’s adlibs cause the track to have a constant bounce. Yet Khalid is the one that pushes this song over the top; his vocal performance is astounding in the chorus and the final verse.

The rest of the songs on the album are anything but filler. Unlike some poorly constructed pop albums, the singles do not stand head and toe above the rest of the album. “Prayers Up” feat. Travis Scott and A-track, has an auto-tuned Travis rap over a jazz-infused beat. This sounds like an evolved version of Antidote-esque Travis. His voice manipulation adds to the flow of the song rather than taking away from it, similar to Frank’s voice on his recent singles “Lens” and “Chanel.” The track “Cash Out” has Groovy Tony (AKA Schoolboy Q) ride over a bouncy techno beat and PARTYNEXTDOOR adds some reverb heavy vocals to the chorus.

The only songs that fall short are “Skrt On Me” and “Faking It.” The latter features Lil Yachty, and while I enjoy Yachty in certain instances, he really feels like a step down from the other artists featured on the album. His verse is lyrically weak, both structurally and thematically. “Skrt On Me” is not a bad song, but it doesn’t feel strong enough with Nicki Minaj as its solo feature. Adding someone to play off of Nicki’s voice would have made the song stand out a lot more.

Calvin Harris seems to have sat back and observed the direction of music for the past year, and poured all he absorbed into Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. It encompases a lot of trending themes in new music including sounds of neo-funk, the blur of R&B and hip hop, and the featuring of a multitude of artists to each serve small roles on one song. “Holiday” features Takeoff from Migos, Snoop Dogg and John Legend; imagine hearing that combo on a track even a year ago. It seems impossible; nevertheless Harris did it, and it sounds fantastic. This album reflects the future of mainstream pop music. Harris was able to get features from veterans and emerging stars, while still being able to create a cohesive and visionary album.

The bottom line is that these songs are fun. The album title doesn’t lie; this shit is wavy. Harris’s music has always had a distinct bounce to it, but this is much wavier than anything he has released before. The album won’t invoke any existential thoughts, but every song is pleasant to listen to, and for a pop album it is remarkably consistent. Each time Harris would release a new single off the album I thought “Okay, this is the one where the quality is going to drop,” and every time he would prove me wrong. Calvin Harris has taken over the summer with his 10 track collection of funky, wavy and bouncy tunes, and I hope a Vol. 2 is on its way soon.