Calvin Harris, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 | Album Review
Scottish DJ and producer Calvin Harris releases the best album of his career with his star-studded Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1.
Calvin Harris is a beast – a Scottish, musical beast that is! The 33-year old DJ and producer continues to roll out hit after hit. Face it Y’all – the man has nothing but hits. Hit after hit. Did we mention that he’s a certified hit machine? Enough adulation – we don’t want him to think too highly of himself. Though he should, considering he “puts in work” on his latest studio album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. We can only hope Vol. 2 will be as intriguing and funky, sigh.
Calvin Harris kicks off Funk Wav Bounces with a bang thanks to promo single “Slide,” featuring Frank Ocean and Migos. “Slide” served as the first indication Harris was switching up his usual style. The production is superb, characterized by good vibes and a killer groove. Things commence with Ocean’s familiar, alt-R&B brand. At times, he uses high-pitch shifted vocals, but listeners are also treated to his natural voice, in its illustrious beauty. Among the best moments is the catchy, glorious hook. Migos – Quavo and Offset only – handle the second and third verses. It’s all flex action.
“Cash Out” is a much more bizarre collaboration pairing ScHoolboy Q, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and D.R.A.M. Remarkably, it works much better than expected. Once more, Harris’ production is top-notch and serves as the catalyst for the three musicians. ScHoolboy Q is the most surprising of the three featured guests, but with the sound evoking West Coast G-Funk, it’s fuel for his artistic fire on the verses. PARTYNEXTDOOR handles chorus duties soundly, but it is the harmonized vocals of D.R.A.M., who concludes the song, that really steals the show.
“Heatstroke” continues to push the boundaries of collaborations, pairing Young Thug, Pharrell Williams, and Ariana Grande. This second single from Funk Wav Bounces gives Harris another surprising, yet enjoyable and groovy record. Young Thug earns the biggest role, laying claim to the intro, and the verses. His contributions are all flex, built on his sex game. He collaborates with Williams on the chorus, exiting as Grande joins in with small, but notable role. Calling “Heatstroke” a gem would be an overstatement, but there’s no shame in the game of this groovy, made-for-summer jam.
The hits keep rollin’ on “Rollin,” enlisting trap favorite Future and the up-and-coming American Teen, Khalid. Harris sets the tone early with his continual, funky backdrop, owning the first 40 seconds. Following the swag showcase, Khalid lends his glorious vocals on one of the best hooks of Funk Wav Bounces. Future takes the reins on the verses, with respectable results. While a smoother rapper might’ve been a better fit, all in all, “Rollin” offers truly enticing ear candy.
“Take a molly like communion (pop one).” That’s how Travis Scott rolls on “Prayers Up,” which features A-Trak as a co-producer alongside Harris. Like Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 as a whole, “Prayers Up” is pleasant, harmless fun. Contextually, “Prayers Up” is weaker than the four standouts that precede it. Still, nothing wrong with a little eccentricity from Travis Scott – in moderation.
The brief “Holiday” finally allows the third member of Migos, Takeoff, to get into the action. “Holiday” also welcomes Snoop Dogg and John Legend to the funky action. As always, Snoop’s flow is buttery smooth – a potential missed opportunity on the aforementioned “Rollin.” Legend remains soulful as ever, while a brasher, but poised Takeoff contrasts the easygoing flow of Snoop. “Holiday is second-tier as opposed to first-tier, but still sound without question.
“Skrt on Me” featuring Nicki Minaj has good intentions, BUT, also has an argument for the weakest moment of the album. The tropical-infused production is a nice change of pace, but it’s not enough to take this record next level. The concept of “Skrt on Me” is decent on paper, but the execution however, is a bit shaky. Disappointing for a Nicki Minaj feature for sure.
“Feels” is the perfect example of a likable, flawed record. Featuring Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, and Big Sean, “Feels” has star power, even when it falls short lyrically and thematically. “Feels” exhibits short-lived nebulousness before one of the most infectious grooves of the album kicks in. Summer is written all over it. These feels are care-free by all means. Pharrell handles the vocal duties from the jump, sound true to himself vocally and artistically. The lyrics are innocent enough, but not particularly profound or arousing. The hook, courtesy of Perry, is okay, not game changing. Big Sean drops a predictable verse, but it feels right contextually. Verdict: undercooked, star-studded record that sort of gets a pass, for some reason.
In contention for best song of Funk Wav Bounces is the penultimate track, “Faking It,” featuring Kehlani and Lil Yachty. Kehlani is on autopilot – she’s best when she’s edgy and brutally honest. More surprising is the fact that Lil Yachty drops a presentable rap. Yeah, the “pepperonis” lyric could’ve been omitted, but Yachty has certainly done worse. Jessie Reyez concludes Funk Wav Bounces soulfully with “Hard to Love.” Her distinct pipes, along with the harmonic progression are big selling points. It’s not the perfect closer, but there’s magic there.
All said and done, Calvin Harris releases the best album of his career with his star-studded Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. Some of the collaborations he puts together seem risky, but end up working well. While there are some head-scratching moments (“Prayers Up” and “Skrt on Me”), as well as flawed moments (“Feels”), there are no completely condemnable songs. This is a singles album, and it accomplishes it intent without question. Perfect for summer.
Gems: “Slide,” “Cash Out,” “Rollin,” “Feels” & “Faking It”