While not for everyone, Calvin Harris is a master of what he does. One of the pioneers of festival-ready EDM, his insane amount of chart-dominating singles make him a precursor to today’s streaming culture whereby one artist can release an album that monopolises the top 10 (see Ed Sheeran’s latest effort Divide). This latest effort strays away from the formula he has duplicated on his last two albums, with most of the songs based around riding a groove rather than reaching an overblown crescendo. With EDM fading out of the mainstream, Harris is probably wise to make this evolution, and as the title indicates he leans more towards the pop-funk stylings that have given artists like Mark Ronson such success in recent years.
Lead single ‘Slide’ is immensely promising, with its blissful, sunny feel and Frank Ocean’s distinctive, laid back vocal line suggesting that Harris’ production was becoming more subtle and incorporating other varied influences. ‘Slide’ is arguably the best thing Harris has ever released, and the biggest strength of the song and the whole of Funk Wave Bounces is the way all the guests are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the tunes. The effect Harris appears to have on his vocalists is demonstrated by the ska-influenced ‘Feels,’ which contains Katy Perry, Big Sean and Pharrell and makes the two former sound fresher than they have for years. Harris disappears into the background more than ever before, not singing once on the record and using his beats as a showcase for the vocalists to demonstrate or even revitalise their talent.
However, the record does have its fair share of drawbacks, the main one being that its so repetitive. After three listens it was still difficult to remember distinctive melodies aside from a few notable tracks (‘Slide,’ ‘Feels’, ‘Faking It’) as they all seem to merge together. While the consistent funky tone creates the summery vibe the cover art suggests Harris is going for, this tone works far better for releasing individual singles. There is not enough variety in production or song structure present here to stave off the boredom when deep cuts like the bland ‘Cash Out’ or the terrible Nicki Minaj showcase ‘Skrt On Me’ pass by.
Sunny and breezy but with little genuine substance, although that’s clearly the intention here, Funk Wave Bounces is a step in the right direction for Calvin Harris. While unlikely to secure him as much chart success as his previous releases, Harris sounds comfortable in the new sonic palette he utilises here, and with a little more tonal variety he could have really pushed on – as it stands this is a pleasant yet forgettable listen.