Calvin Harris' new album is here, but has taking on a new sound actually worked?
The production veteran's fifth album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, is out now and features some of the biggest names in music.
Amongst a mass of incredible releases this month which include the likes of Vince Staples, Lorde and Fleet Foxes (just to name a few), we are now at the end of June and one release that certainly has a lot of people talking (it has for months) is Calvin Harris’ new album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. For months, the king of all things EDM has been teasing and sharing a raft of new tunes that features some hefty names, from his submission for song of the summer in the Frank Ocean and Migos collaboration Slide to the stacked Heatstroke, which features Ariana Grande, Pharrell Williams and Young Thug. Calvin Harris is currently in midst of a major musical ‘rebrand’ and it’s certainly an interesting time, given his influence on commercial electronic music and music as a whole. So, as he continues his morph from the king of EDM to fully fledged funk lord, we thought we’d take a look at his ‘rebrand’ as well as his new record Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 to give you our honest take and ask - has the rebrand to the suddenly-dealable, funked-up edition of Calvin Harris actually worked?
The Features and Collaborators:
From its opener in Silde to its closer in Hard to Love, this album is stacked with big names - with Katy Perry, Frank Ocean, Ariana Grande, Pharrell Williams, Snoop Dogg and a whole hoard of others making the cut. Calvin has certainly pulled out all the stops to pump as much juice into this thing as possible, but does it all flow? In short, no. It’s a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen. It reads like a season of Masterchef, in a sense that all the features (artists/collaborators on the record) are all trying to wow you with their creations. Sure, there are certain features on this record that shine (such as Slide - which scored a place in this year's Pilerats mid-year report), but for the most part, this ultimately feels like Calvin Harris has just linked up with 21 big names for the sake of marketing a record with an additional 'wow factor'.
Wait, so Calvin Harris no longers produces trashy EDM? Correct, it’s almost like he’s going through some weird EDM mid-life crisis, and this funky rebrand transpired almost overnight. There are the orange tinged glasses he’s been sporting, to the sudden re-emergence of him fiddling with an actual bass, to the weird dad-beard-thing he’s rocking, Calvin Harris' new look is out there - that, and in his most recent press shots, it looks like he's going to ask you if you've seen a dead body in a dimly-lit alleyway somewhere in California. Extra brownie points to the person that can point us in the direction of just what spurred this sudden change in sound, because we don’t think it was his recent, public beef with Taylor Swift (without getting too TMZ, Perez Hilton like here).
Does the album actually deliver?
Music nerds will tell you this album's title reads like a sample pack or even a saved Ableton file, and Calvin’s record just may take the cake for the strangest, yet still somehow most boring album title of 2017. But strange album title and long list of collaborators aside, is the album actually ok? Yes and no. In terms of commercial success, we have already seen just how dominant some of the songs on the record has been (Slide), so with the accompanied visual of the Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Big Sean collaboration Feels and the enticing list of collaborators, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 probably carries a fair chunk of mainstream success. If we are being picky though, aside from the fact a number of songs have similar sounding bass progressions or flat-out sound the same, it doesn't seem to be too half-bad of a record. If we put the already-released Slide, Heatstroke and Feels aside, there are seven other fairly decent tracks that again, certainly cater to receiving commercial airplay. More often than not, if you are an artist who can manage to put together a song with one or two big names in the world of today, there will always be an audience for it. With that, of the 7 other tracks that feature on this record, there will be people that appreciate them differently. Slide is too good to not be ranked as the best song of the record, but tracks like Cash Out (which features ScHoolboy Q, PARTYNEXTDOOR and D.R.A.M) offer quite a similar, laid-back vibe to Slide which make the album's low points dealable.
An interesting conversation, though, is how Calvin aims to translate this record live. If we are looking at Calvin Harris’ place in the world of dance music (as a big-name EDM festival headliner and mainstage magnet), this new direction in sound is going to be a struggle to translate and blend into his live set. There is no disputing the fact that what’s heard on Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 has an audience, and again, its sound is perfectly catered to what's currently hot on commercial radio, but if you're after the Under Control, Outside, Summer version of Calvin Harris that we all accepted is his new form, that ship has either sailed or it is being put on hold for repairs. Thinking about how this album could translate in a live setting is an interesting task, as it's probably going to cause a massive switch-up in comparison to the switch-on-some-CDJs-and-call-it-a-night Calvin that we've all grown accustomed too. We'd imagine that'll be something like him on stage with a few extra band members and attempting to try and squish in as many of the collaborators in his set time that he possibly could, similar to someone like Mark Ronson or a big-name hip-hop act headlining Coachella. It's definitely going to be an interesting time.
All in all, when the sounds from the world of electronic dance music are constantly shifting, Calvin Harris' new record is a strange, unexpected turn. It's definitely not a bad record, largely thanks to some stand-out, hip-hop-leaning collaborations in which guest vocalists feel at home with Harris' new funked-up sound. It does have low points - like any album - but largely, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 is actually fairly decent (and far less headache-inducing than his fully-fledged dive into EDM). Considering his reign over the genre, Calvin Harris has certainly picked an interesting time to take upon a rebrand - but, he's somehow managed to actually pull it off, even with his new, scruffy dad look.
Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 is out now.
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