Remember summertime as a kid? School closed its doors for a few months and the summer months embraced you with open arms. Before a 9-to-5, rent and other major obligations were a thing, the summer had a certain charm and allure that you can’t do justice with nostalgic reminiscing. Those feelings are exactly what Calvin Harris tries to capture with his latest effort, the appropriately titled Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. It’s a tall task, but if anyone seems up to it, the multitalented British super-producer with almost as many hits to his name as fish in the sea might be a good pick. While Harris usually rules the airwaves with a textbook EDM style focused on drops and big hooks, it looked like whatever he had in store for Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 was not going to be that. The moment the first single and now platinum hit ‘Slide’ was released, it was clear that Calvin was not going to deliver more of the same this time around. He made an ode earlier in the year that all of his songs in 2017 “have been sonically designed to make you feel fucking incredible”. Whether or not he could deliver on that claim would ultimately be a major factor in the success of this album.
Coming in at a breezy 10 tracks, Bounces is intent on creating a mood without overstaying its welcome. Kicking off that endeavor is the aforementioned ‘Slide’ which finds Frank Ocean and two-thirds of the Migos joining in on the summer fun. Although the song begins the album, it is the clear centerpiece that not only sets the tone for what’s to come, but also hooks you right off the bat with its laid back infectiousness. If this album is a hot summer day, then ‘Slide’ is watching the sunset at its conclusion. The elusive Frank Ocean has an effortless cool about him that carries the track while Migos bring life to the party in the tracks latter half. From there, Harris enlists a guest list that would give DJ Khaled a run for his money. The difference between Harris and Khaled’s effort Grateful which dropped the week before Calvin’s own is that there seems to be some thought and intention behind the collaborations. Posse cuts of today sometimes feel like the producer has a hat with 200 names in it and they just go with the first four names they pick out. In other words, collaborations with multiple artists have started to become less and less cohesive. While this album isn’t completely immune to those tropes, it does its best to avoid them.
The moments that complement the summer vibe far outweigh the ones that fade into background music. ‘Cash Out’ is enough to make any fan want a full blown funk album from Schoolboy Q and PARTYNEXTDOOR delivers a hook that continues to build upon the island sound that he has contributed so much to the past few years.The track transitions into an even groovier earworm about halfway through when Big Baby D.R.A.M. takes over. As good as the former half of the song was, the second makes it that much better as D.R.A.M.’s soulful vocals are an unexpected welcome surprise. Newcomer Khalid delivers similar fare with his hook on single ‘Rollin’, but ultimately the song would have been stronger had he kept the track to himself. Future is no stranger to hit records, but his tone on the verses pushes when the song pulls. At the end of the day the chorus remains strong enough to not ruin the party. Pharrell contributes his voice to two records on ‘Bounces’. The first is ‘Heatstroke’ with Young Thug and Ariana Grande and the second is ‘Feels’ with Katy Perry and Big Sean. The latter is an extremely listenable record that doesn’t give you much reason to revisit it. Perry’s slump carries over from her recent LP here, while the Big Sean verse is reminiscent of the more pop leaning work from his debut album. Pharrell is sporting his falsetto that has become his tool of choice over the past three years and it fits the vibe of these breezy records nicely. ‘Heatstroke’ finds Young Thug and Pharrell sounding right at home alongside one another, but it’s Ariana Grande that steals the show on the songs hook. Where ‘Feels’ comes up a little short and feels disjointed, ‘Heatstroke’ excels.
Both Nicki Minaj and Travis Scott receive solo efforts on ‘Funk’. They both continue the vibe established on the songs that precede them, but neither does anything to stand out from the crowded guest list of the album. Nicki Minaj chooses auto-tune drenched vocals in a more island leaning jam and Scott harmonizes over scratches courtesy of A-Trak. Harris brings the best out of Snoop Dogg, Takeoff and John Legend on ‘Holiday’. Uncle Snoop channels the same energy he had on his Bush album to spectacular results. The album closes out with two of its stronger moments. They both slow down the pace quite a bit as the party starts to come to a close. ‘Faking It’ with Kehlani and Lil Yachty manages to be a breakup song that is equally sensual and salty. The acoustic closer ‘Hard To Love’ showcases the newcomer Jessie Reyez stealing the show before the albums conclusion. If ‘Slide’ started the album watching the sunset, then ‘Love’ ends it circled around a bonfire with friends. Reyez is starting to gain popularity and this should only continue that.
Calvin Harris has to be given credit for ambition alone. Not many artists go as far off the beaten from their normal style as he has here. Whether he got bored with his old sound or just experimented on a few tracks and decided to turn it into a whole album is unclear. The fact that the album title is followed with a “Vol. 1” suggests future installments. Maybe listeners are in store for a winter edition later in the year with all ballads? Only time will tell, but for now we have an album full of easy listening for the post-EDM world that craves music where the vibe outweighs the substance. Funk Wav Bounces excels when its guests catch the wave and ride it without thinking too much about it. It might not win a GRAMMY. It might not sell as well as his past albums. It might not even make it to the winter. Luckily, it’s more than enough to heat up the summer and that’s exactly what it sets out to do.
Repeatable: ‘Slide’, ‘Cash Out’, ‘Rollin’, ‘Hard To Love’
Skippable: ‘Skrt On Me’, ‘Feels’
By Scott Evans