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Calvin Harris’ ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1’ is as fun as it is uninteresting

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.

The music week in review: Jay-Z, Calvin Harris, St. Vincent and more

July 4th weekend is upon us. As you flock to the beach or wherever you plan to honor our nation’s independence by heavy day drinking, you’ll need some accompanying music.

It’s been a hell of a week of releases, with new material from some of the powerhouses of music.

Whether you’re trying to listen to some good ol’-fashioned hip-hop, groove to Calvin Harris, or get emotional to St. Vincent, we got you.

Jay-Z – 4:44

The king has returned. 4:44 dropped at midnight last night and has set the whole world ablaze.

This might be some of the realest shit we’ve heard out of Jay-Z, not to mention hip-hop itself, in a minute. Jay-Z raps about his infidelities, disses Kanye, talks about black-owned businesses, and his mother coming out of the closet.

4:44 is some grown shit. It’s great to have Hov back.

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav. Bounces Vol.1

After previewing snippets of Funk Wav. Bounces Vol.1 a couple weeks ago, courtesy of a dancing parrot, Calvin Harris dropped the album and it’s a pop/dance music masterpiece.

Harris supplies his trademark toe-tapping production, the musical equivalent of driving around Miami with the top down, and then pairs that instrumentation with an amazing guest list of hip-hop musicians.

Some of the collaborations include Migos and Frank Ocean; Thug, Pharrell, and Ariana Grande; and Snoop Dogg, John Legend, and Takeoff. That’s quite the group.

Funk Wav. Bounces will be ringing out all summer.

Washed Out – Mister Mellow

Washed Out, real name Ernest Greene, one of the originators of the chillwave sound that dominated the early 2010’s, dropped the true-to-the-name Mister Mellow on Friday.

Greene changed up the game with 2010’s Life of Leisure and 2011’s Within and Without, but although Mister Mellow has some serious chill factor, there’s nothing overly revolutionary about this album.

Still, if you’re looking to zone out, or spark a conversation about the merits of chillwave, Mister Mellow is worth a listen.

Trouble – 16

If mature rap about marriage and Black capitalism or fluffy pop-house music isn’t your thing at the moment, let me introduce you to Trouble.

Trouble is one of the most slept on dudes in the game, although he has somewhat of a cult following in his hometown of Atlanta.

Up until now, Trouble has been a mixtape rapper, but this 6-track “collection” is merely a preview for an upcoming full-length album with Mike Will Made-It.

16 is about as hard as it gets, so if you’re spending your July 4th weekend moving bricks instead of going to the beach, this should be your soundtrack.

St. Vincent – “New York”

On a completely different note, St. Vincent released a new single, “New York,” on which St. Vincent, real name Annie Clark, laments the loss of her partner and the city they shared together.

Clark sings painfully about the transformation of the city after a supposed break up, “You’re the only motherfucker in the city that can handle me.”

It’s a pretty big departure from St. Vincent’s catalog, much more emotional and melancholic than Clark’s other work. Anyone who has had a NYC breakup will feel this one deeply.

Tyler, the Creator – “Who Dat Boy” & “911/Mr. Lonely”

Tyler, the Creator released a pair of songs, the first music releases from the Odd Future rapper since 2015’s Cherry Bomb.

“Who Dat Boy” brings along ASAP Rocky and has menacing, horror movie-sounding strings for Rocky and Tyler to trade bars over.

“911/Mr. Lonely” is a more low-key track that brings along Frank Ocean, but then transitions into a snapping, fast-paced banger as Tyler raps about how lonely he is.

It’s good to see Tyler back to his old tricks.

Toro y Moi – “You and I”

Toro y Moi (Chaz Bundick) released “You and I” and accompanying visuals this week. “You and I” is the second release off Bundick’s new album Boo Boo after “Girl Like You” from a couple of weeks ago.

Another forefather of the chillwave sound, Bundick and Washed Out actually went to the University of South Carolina together and they’ve come a long way from their first releases years ago. They’re now making mature music, for better or for worse.

“You and I” is a soft, contemplative song about a relationship, it seems we’ll see a more open and emotional Bundick on Boo Boo, slated for release on July 7th.

More good news for Chaz as June 27th was named “Chaz Bundick Day” in Berkeley, California.

Future – “Extra Luv” ft. YG

Future has added another track to Future, one of his albums from earlier this year, teaming up with YG for “Extra Luv.”

It’s been a wild year for Future, as he became the first artist in history to have two different number 1 albums in back-to-back weeks.

Last week, Future announced a world tour and YG is apparently cooking up the follow up to Still Brazy and Red Friday.

Desiigner – “Liife” ft. Gucci Mane

Desiigner dropped his debut mixtape New English earlier this week, the highlight being “Liife” with Gucci Mane.

I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t really buying into this whole Desiigner dude, but “Liife” is pretty dope, and, of course, Gucci Mane’s verse is brazy.

The young Brooklyn kid has taken a lot of heat since coming up, perhaps rightfully so at times, but shouts out to him. Just a kid trying to get paper.

Lil Pump – “Molly”

So… this is what the kids are listening to, huh? This dude Lil Pump has gained a ridiculous cult following after “Flex Like Ouu,” which has over 16 million plays on SoundCloud, dropped in March and, well, it sure is something.

On “Molly,” Pump raps about the various drugs he is taking over a simple lo-fi beat.

This whole new crop of young rappers are really making waves with this aggressive, drug-addled style of music.

Again, they’re getting a lot of hate, and it may not be your cup of tea, but there’s definitely something magnetic about rappers like Lil Pump, XXXtentacion, and Smokepurpp.