Calvin Harris
Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 1



by Nat S. USER (18 Reviews)
July 3rd, 2017 | 0 replies

Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: This isn’t quite what I came for, but I’ll take it anyway.

There are a few ways in which Calvin Harris’ fifth album is in keeping with his previous releases. It’s not short on up-to-the-minute guest appearances, it keeps itself largely within one stylistic territory, and it makes no effort to hide its pop sensibilities in the slightest. But for every one of these, there are a number of reasons why this album differs from its predecessors. It’s a relatively mere ten tracks long, it was released to minimal fanfare (with just four singles, as against the nine released for 2012’s 18 Months), it doesn’t utilise Harris’ own vocals at all… oh, and its title is Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1, of all things.

Indeed, to those expecting another set of “I’m Not Alone” knockoffs, this album will come as quite the curveball. You know those 4x4 kicks, supersaws and drawn-out snare builds that have characterised Harris’ music for the last few years? Yeah, they’re nowhere to be found. Instead, what we’re met with here is a collection of tracks placed squarely in soul-R&B territory, drenched in a good amount of funk influence (who’d have guessed?) and with an undeniable ‘pop’ feel to them. Of course, this shouldn’t be taken as a move away from the mainstream – the styles found on Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 aren’t currently any less popular than house-oriented EDM was in its prime, so those who deride Harris for following whatever’s in right now will probably find something to moan about here. But it seems like moving outside his apparent comfort zone has given Harris’ music a new spark – the fact he’s not trying to win any dancefloor credibility means we’re spared much of the filler that plagued his last album, 2014’s Motion.

As with all of Harris’ earlier output, it’s the songwriting that will either make or break FWBV1. The lack of Harris-sung tracks means it’s down to the long list of guest vocalists to carry the songs, and some pull this off better than others. When things are good, they actually work fairly well – Khalid’s slow drawl fits perfectly with the laid-back vibe of “Rollin’”, while “Holiday” benefits greatly from the contrast between Snoop Dogg and Takeoff’s aggressive verses and John Legend’s smooth chorus. But when things are bad, they’re nothing short of a chore to listen to. Travis Scott can’t save “Prayers Up” from being a three-and-a-half minute meander, while Jessie Reyes’ contribution to closer “Hard to Love” is exactly that, hard to love. And say what you will about Katy Perry’s music, it’s hard to deny that “Feels” isn’t her finest hour – she essentially repeats the same one or two lines with little variation throughout the whole song, leaving Pharrell and Big Sean to take most of the spotlight (thankfully, their verses are enjoyable enough).

Undoubtedly, FWBV1 is Harris’ least club-friendly release to date; it’s quite clear that this is an album designed more for listening to than for raving to. Of course, Harris has always been as much a pop act as a dance act at heart, so this album shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, but it wouldn’t be too much a stretch to see it costing him at least a few of his fans – the EDM crowd will almost certainly be left cold, and those who follow his music for its strong hooks and vocals might not find this to their taste. Still, for an artist who’s been heavily criticised in the past for relying on the same successful formula, FWBV1 represents a welcome change of pace – but just as importantly, a decently-executed one overall. It may be far from perfect, but if Harris were to build on this sound in future (perhaps with a Vol.2?), the results could well be stellar.

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