Review: Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1

Image credit: NRK P3

Ten years on from I Created Disco, the megastar DJ finds funk once again

The transformation of Calvin Harris from Dumfries-dwelling dweeb to hunky LA underwear model has had its fair share of press coverage. The change in Harris’s musical output has been less well-documented, but compare something from his rough-and-ready debut to the focus-group sheen of recent smash This Is What You Came For, and you’ll notice that experience has helped Harris perfect EDM for the masses.

It has also robbed his recent output of any sense of fun; the only dancing you can do to any track off 2014’s Motion is a robotic fist-pump, and even then, only after enough VKs to fell an elephant. But as the fluorescent-glow of EDM culture has begun to fade away, Harris has overseen a bold change in his sound, and injected some joy back into his music.

To make this possible, he’s followed the blueprint of perennial trendsetters Daft Punk, who eschewed four-to-the-floor house music to return to the roots of dance on 2013’s disco-influenced funkfest, Random Access Memories. On that album, the robot twins flicked through their contact book, bringing in a host of guest stars led by Chic legend Nile Rodgers. By contrast, Harris’s latest is influenced by 1980s post-disco and boogie, but similarly calls in a multitude of favours, cramming 22 guest slots into 10 tracks and 37 minutes.

The choice of guests says almost as much as the change in musical direction. Harris has shown his commercial nous by leaving nothing to chance on the album’s radio-ready singles, bringing in heavyweights from across rap and RnB. Frank Ocean seems to find it very hard to release anything less than stellar these days, and he infects Slide with a beach-party bounce which has made it a BBQ playlist staple. At the same time, Harris has taken risks, leaving some deeper cuts in the hands of relative unknowns, to equally great effect - newcomer Jessie Reyes smashes it with a beguiling vocal on album closer Hard to Love.

Oddly for an album that sounds so laid-back, there has been speculation as to how much Harris’s well-publicised break-up with professional sass engineer Taylor Swift has influenced FWBV.1 (Christ, the title is awful even in short form). Strikingly, many songs here feature protagonists in turmoil over love gone sour. Rollin pictures a spurned lover speeding down the motorway with “anger in my chest”, while the despondent Faking It details divine rejection in the wake of a troubled relationship: “Pray to god, but I'm feeling like he's going deaf”. It’s perhaps telling that Harris lets others speak for him on this album; his first LP on which he doesn’t have a lead vocal.

Whilst this new direction is undeniably a success, some things here do fall flat. Cash Out overstays its welcome despite being under four minutes long, and Nicki Minaj’s turn on the dancehall-aping Skrt On Me feels forced, with an under par rap verse awkwardly copy-pasted into the middle.

Nevertheless, Harris’s boldness must be complimented; he could quite easily have sat on his laurels (and huge, huge piles of money) for another few phoned in club anthems. The risks have paid off, and the excitement should be ramped up for the inevitable, equally poorly-named Funk Wav Bounces Vol 2.

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