There’s no doubt that Calvin Harris is a clever guy. His transformation from a slovenly house DJ to an EDM monolith to his latest incarnation, an autonomous producer who’s serious about pop music has seen his earnings soar- according to Forbes, his earnings have almost eclipsed the $200 million mark over the last three years. It’s no secret that EDM has been on the decline and with that endeavour set to perish, Harris has pivoted accordingly. With his latest album Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1, which reads like some sweetly nostalgic playlist on Spotify, Harris looks back to a golden era of sun-kissed funk and disco for new inspiration.
For someone with a proven algorithm for chart success redirection is risky, but it’s how Harris’ handpicked guests translate ’80s tropes for millennial ears that charges its congeniality. Like any DJ producer album Funk Wav Bounces is stuffed with big names, and Harris’ pinpointing of their idiosyncrasies helps to make this a record that doesn’t rely on solely the pull of established names but one that thrives off of what makes them appealing in the first place. On ‘Slide’, Frank Ocean’s keenness for duality and melancholy brilliantly softens the synth fluorescence of Harris’ production. On ‘Heatstroke’, Young Thug’s giddy fluidity is allowed similar free reign and the track is elevated accordingly by his vocal gymnastics.
It’s collaborations like these that set Harris apart from producers doing similar projects at the moment. Yes, there’s the predictable hookups with Future and Travis Scott but the more ambitious acquisitions provide some truly great summer bangers even if they’re less obvious than Harris’ previous hits. Snoop Dogg’s verse and chorus is a highlight on ‘Holiday’, adding effortless cool to this simmering slow jam. Closing track ‘Hard Love’ is the record’s obvious outlier, pasting relative unknown Jessie Reyez’s gorgeous rasp over shoegaze guitar and plinky percussion. It’s a fitting comedown for a true playlist album that’s flexible enough to be a barbecue backdrop or the catalyst for a supreme summer pool party.
Despite a lack of chart-toppling hits, Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 certainly shows range and longevity. Harris clearly has a palette that stretches beyond EDM that throttles the life out of its speakers and even when the tracks fall slightly flat as they do on ‘Skrt On Me’ and ‘Faking It’, it’s still flawlessly produced. With EDM fading fast in the margins, at this rate it looks like that Calvin Harris the student has surpassed the master.