Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 is everything the title promises to be. It’s funky, it’s wavy, it’s bouncy; it’s a laid-back summer snapshot and some silky smooth funk all wrapped up in a single package. Calvin Harris pieces together throwback instrumentals with the modern mainstream’s hottest artists as if it were nothing, coming together in the form of vintage funk jams and groovy pop rap hits. While some of the deeper cuts find themselves grasping for air, it’s Harris’ knack for summer single material that makes this record as great as it is – it might not be groundbreaking, but it’s gloriously funky and effortlessly refreshing.
For Funk Wav Bounces, Harris’ skills as a DJ and house producer are switched out for those as a multi-instrumentalist and creative curator – drawing on that disco-funk throwback sound, Harris fuses old school vibes with a clean modern production aesthetic and a roster of 2017’s hit makers. There’s a very clear palette that Funk Wav Bounces paints with; smooth electric pianos, velvety bass, glossy synthesisers. It’s basic, but it works so well. There’s layers, but it never really feels as if too much is going on. With these simple yet smooth and shimmering instrumentals, Harris opens the door for his guest artists and leaves space in the mix for a host of different voices.
Like pop’s DJ Khaled, Harris perfectly orchestrates his collective of featured artists, balancing the contrasts and complements of his collaborators and sliding them into their perfect fit in the tracklist. Funk Wav Bounces’ best moments are those in which the chemistry between artists and with Harris’ instrumentation come together for total musical synergy. It’s those tracks with a sole performer – like Nicki Minaj’s dancehall-lite Skrt On Me or Jessie Reyez on tropical pop ballad and closing track Hard to Love – where the album falters, stalling when none of that interpersonal musical charisma comes out to play. The instrumentation is great, but Harris’ gleaming nu-disco loops can only go so far on it’s own.
But when Funk Wav Bounces works, it really works. When Harris and his guests gel, these summery singles find themselves on instant replay. Heatstroke sees three very different artists – Young Thug, Pharrell Williams, and Ariana Grande – all deliver wonderfully unique yet cohesive performances, bouncing off of one another with such perfect chemistry and charisma. Young Thug glides over smooth bass grooves and bouncy percussion with his effortless flow and eclectic cadence, while Pharrell and Ariana exchange lines on the hook, both contrasting and complementing one another, coming together for one of the album’s most captivating cuts.
Lead single Slide sees neo-soul star Frank Ocean deliver one of his poppiest performances yet, but his signature style still manages to come into play over Harris’ glowing piano chords. Migos’ Quavo and Offset drop in too, delivering catchy verses with plenty of adlibs. But Cash Out is obviously Funk Bounces Wav standout track – ScHoolboy Q, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and DRAM unite for a funk odyssey, showing off each of their respective strengths while coalescing together into a trio fit for a pop rap epic. Neo-soul and nu-disco collide with one another, but the result is crisp, clean, and endlessly catchy.
Rollin sees trap legend Future and up and coming R&B star Khalid work wonders together over a dreamy and lowkey instrumental, while Snoop Dogg, John Legend, and Migos’ Takeoff form an unlikely trio on the laid-back Holiday. Travi$ Scott’s autotuned croons take on Prayers Up and exchange his typical glossy trap stylings for more casual disco leanings. Even Big Sean picks up his game and delivers an above average verse to match Katy Perry’s and Pharrell’s great vocal performances on the tropical funk of Feels. Unfortunately, it’s Funk Wav Bounces’ final moments that are the most lacklustre. Kehlani and Lil Yachty are weak guest spots on the album’s most uninteresting and sparse instrumental with Faking It, while closing track Hard to Love is an unsatisfying conclusion to the album despite Jessie Reyez’s decent vocals.
But in the end, Funk Wav Bounces’ fresh and compelling cuts outweigh those weaker moments. With Calvin Harris doubling as both instrumentalist extraordinaire and artist curator, the result is an album that’s both well produced and well put together. It’s obvious which of these tracks are pop concessions, but when single material and great songwriting collide, there’s fantastic and unforgettable tracks like Slide, Heatstroke, and Cash Out. It’s funky, it’s fresh, and the ultimate sound of summer – we can only hope that there’s a Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 on the way.