It feels insane to be writing this, but it has somehow been over a decade since Calvin Harris unleashed his nudisco banger "Acceptable in the 80s". Since then, the Scottish DJ-producer has crafted several other dancefloor hits, most notably with Rihanna, produced dozens of pop records, secured lucrative DJ residencies at Las Vegas venues, modeled underwear for Armani, and dated Rita Ora and Taylor Swift.
With Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, Harris has dialed back the overblown EDM and created something a little more chill. “Funk Wav Bounces” is a fairly accurate description of the sort of vibes the producer has created on the album. The songwriting is bouncy with funk-inspired bass lines and rhythms, and it all sounds very crisp and high-fidelity – as good as a high bitrate .wav audio file – although most will probably just stream it online or download the MP3s. But as the 38 minutes of Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 rolls by, the reflective sheen of a pool somewhere in Beverly Hills soon wears off. If you jump into the pristine water on opening track “Slide,” a few tracks in and you might be ready to towel off and put your hoodie back on.
Starting off Harris's album promo cycle with a bang, lead single “Slide" seemed to be perfectly timed with the mainstream success of Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” and having the elusive, universally-loved Frank Ocean on the track didn’t hurt either. “Slide” seemed poised to be a summer anthem with its breezy melodies and on-point features. It went Platinum.
From there, Harris went on to drop “Heatstroke” with Ariana Grande, Young Thug, and Pharrell, “Rollin” featuring Future and Khalid, and most recently “Feels” with Katy Perry, Pharrell, and Big Sean, which was given a tropical visual treatment. But despite all the social media teases and big names, the trio of tracks didn’t feel quite as fresh as “Slide” did back in February.
Upon repeated listens, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 seems to flatline. Yes, the guest artist lineup is insanely stacked with the likes of Nicki Minaj, Future, Lil Yachty, and many more, but there are moments on the album when it feels like Harris is filling in the feature blanks with hyped rappers. On “Rollin,” Future’s verse seems out of place and rushed and the normally turnt-up Travis Scott sounds bored on the downtempo “Prayers Up.” In general, these are well-crafted, catchy pop songs, but the funky, breezy, '80s-inspired schtick gets old.
Despite how suitable it is for a snooze in the sun, the album does contain some previously unheard gems. Kehlani and Lil Yachty both shine through on “Faking It,” and the track's old school electro vibes are a welcome reprogramming from the rest of the album's more obviously '80s-inspired piano and bass-led sounds. On closing track “Hard To Love,” Jessie Reyez’s vocals are allowed to freely permeate the song without the autotune that plagues the album at times.
With its timely arrival, it’s difficult to avoid comparisons to another big time producer’s full-length featuring a bunch of famous people. DJ Khaled’s Grateful seems to be unavoidable this summer. The album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard charts, and Khaled currently has three tracks on the Billboard Hot 100, two of which are in the top five.
Props to Harris for doing his own thing and not just pandering to what people want to hear, which is, apparently, Justin Bieber singing in Spanish, but Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 doesn’t quite harness its star power in the same way Khaled’s Grateful is able to, and is possibly a bit too chilled-out for its own good.
For more of our reviews, read our thoughts on Kanye West protégé Kacy Hill's debut album 'Like A Woman' right here.