It’s been ten years since Calvin Harris burst onto the EDM scene with his debut album I Created Disco, led by the single “Acceptable in the 80’s.”
I Created Disco was a goofy, but groovy take on dance music. Harris’ style was refreshingly earnest and straightforward in a genre of music that can get bogged down in lavishness and maximalism.
2009’s Ready for the Weekend pushed his style further, falling more into trance, but still retaining Harris’ trademark bounce, evidenced most by “You Used to Hold Me,” a fixture on late 2000’s, early 2010’s dance playlists.
One notable aspect of Harris’ music, as a DJ and producer, was his mere presence on the tracks themselves. Most artists in the EDM lane choose massive stars to sing their big, nostalgic, but usually substantively empty, lyrics.
Harris sung on his own tracks, an interesting departure from the popular style of, say, Swedish House Mafia and Harris’ contemporaries.
In 2012, Harris switched it up on 18 Months, throwing massive stars to compliment his ever-growing sound.
The lead single off 18 Months, “We Found Love,” employed Rihanna to sing the hook. “We Found Love” was an absolute smash and Harris’ first Billboard 100 number 1 single in the US.
Other notable features on 18 Months include Ne-Yo, Tinie Tempah, Ellie Goulding, Florence Welch, Dillon Francis, Dizzee Rascal, and Kelis, on “Bounce,” a song named as a seeming tribute to Harris’ musical style.
Calvin Harris’ fourth album in 2014, Motion, brought in more star power, with features from artists like Gwen Stefani, Big Sean, and HAIM, and Harris drifted further once again towards the overstated EDM du jour.
On “Under Control,” Harris brought on Swedish House Mafia’s Alesso, seemingly to make those synths even bigger.
That breakdown on “Under Control” is a far cry from the goofy self-awareness of “Acceptable in the 80’s” and Calvin Harris earned lucrative residencies in Las Vegas and beyond, becoming a bonafide star of the maximalist EDM world.
Since 2014, Calvin Harris has gone through a hugely-publicized relationship, and subsequent breakup, with Taylor Swift.
Perhaps that breakup changed Harris’ outlook on his own music, perhaps the Scotsman feels secure about his place within dance music, because Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1, released last week on Columbia Records, is a pretty clear departure from the space Harris has occupied for several years.
Although Harris had dipped his toe into the hip-hop world, Funk Wav Bounces features almost exclusively hip-hop artists over simple, toe-tapping Harris instrumentation.
Funk Wav Bounces is far from a hip-hop record, it’s dance music, but each track hosts a litany of features from the most poppin’ artists in hip-hop.
Frank Ocean and Migos team up on the album’s lead single “Slide;” Schoolboy Q, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and DRAM feature on the next; then we’re treated to Young Thug, Ariana Grande, and Pharrell. You get it.
“Slide” is the standout from Funk Wav Bounces, the rest of the songs sort of blend together, albeit in a very fun way.
But one can’t help but notice much of the intrigue of Funk Wav Bounces is from the tracklist itself (Snoop Dogg, John Legend, and Takeoff! Travis Scott and A-Trak!), as opposed to the actual music.
There are no arena-filling EDM synths or Swedish House Mafia cosplay, just simple piano or funk guitar.
Funk Wav Bounces isn’t downtempo, but it’s significantly chilled-out. The synths on “Rollin,” with Future and (the very Frank Ocean-sounding) Khalid, sound far more like early Toro y Moi than Alesso.
Calvin Harris has an impressive ability to make incredibly palatable music across all dance music genres and sub-genres. Personally, I prefer this style of music to the hit-you-in-the-face power synth chords of “Under Control,” but that’s neither here nor there.
Funk Wav Bounces is not the most complicated record you’ll hear this year, and that’s fine. It’s an album you can listen to both on the road trip to the beach and the beach club when you get there.
At a time where the political and social climate of the world has never been more fraught, maybe we need more music like Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1.