Reviews: Calvin Harris & DJ Khaled

Two of the world’s biggest DJs know a lot of the same people, but neither of them follows the same formula.
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harris funk wav

Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 by Calvin Harris

The 10-year physical transformation of Calvin Harris from shaggy bedroom beatmaker to chiseled super-producer mirrors his own development as a musician. For one thing, he now realizes he is as much part of the product as the music he makes and seems happy to be taking a backseat to the performers he’s enlisted for his fifth studio album. At no point do Harris’ sandpapery vocals scrape against the beat; this time he lets his beats do the talking. Calvin Harris never took himself too seriously. And after ten years of making self-deprecating jokes, he’s decided just to make it look easy.

Anyone who’s heard “Slide” already knows the sound of Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, a funky ambiance achieved through more natural sounding instrumentation in its compositions. Guitars twang as much as synths reverberate, and the percussive elements often sound more like actual drums than drum machines. The pianos on “Prayers Up” add a little something extra without turning it into the usual driving house fare they typically kick into high gear. It’s incredibly cohesive, but as a result also rather singular in its sound. “Feels” and “Cash Out” share a chorus the way films like Antz and Bug’s Life share plotlines; different, yet based on the same fundamentals.

The funk sound here also leans in easily to Harris’ own production background, which always touched upon groove with a little bit of goofiness. Funk Wav’s peppered with subtle twangs and shifts that bring you back to the tongue-and-cheek Harris who watched you from the bar yet never felt confident enough to say anything about it. “Feels” stands out as an example of this; it bops playfully along as Pharrell, Big Sean, and Katy Perry innocently pine after another’s affection. Yet “I know you’re not afraid to pop pills” hardly sounds as harmless as the track would imply.

Speaking of Perry, she alongside the rest of Funk Wav’s ladies emerge as the star pieces of their tracks. Whether it’s Ariana Grande floating through a heat wave or Nicki Minaj whining up while drenched in autotune, each of them sounds very at home inside Harris’ world. This hardly comes as a surprise, as the standouts from 18 Months (“Bounce”, “Sweet Nothing”, “Thinking About You”) rank among Harris’ greatest moments. Especially rewarding are the closing quips from Kehlani and Jessica Reyez on “Faking It” and “Hard to Love” respectively. “Faking It” fits well enough on Kehlani that it could work on SweetSexySavage, and she wears it with her standard confidence and aplomb. But “Hard to Love” arrives like the end of a day at the beach, a Caribbean sunset to match Reyez’s somber resolve to remain the lover she knows she is. Her confidence brings the album to a gratifying conclusion. Though the sun sets on Funk Wav, you’re left with memories of a day well spent, and happy to know it’ll be there for you tomorrow. B


Grateful by DJ Khaled

Clocking in at nearly an hour-and-a-half, Grateful certainly bursts forth with generosity. And chances are if you enjoy the track’s featured artist, you likely will enjoy the track itself. DJ Khaled never puts much of his own pizazz onto a production; instead, he manages to pair artists with beats and sounds pertinent to their artistry, a millionaire matchmaker of the music world if you will. “Wild Thoughts” fits Rihanna like a slipper, and “To the Max” gives Drake a much-needed speed boost. Though “Nobody” brings nothing new to the table, it puts Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj amidst towering gospels and a simple beat which suits them both. “Don’t Quit” throws a little funk into the mix, but this sounds like Calvin Harris scrapped it from his own record.

The sheer mass of songs and personalities present on Grateful means much of it fails to stand out on its own, and tracks get lost in a whirlwind of input that’s only really tied together by Khaled. If he didn’t announce himself at the beginning of each record, DEE-JAY KHA-LED would probably never cross your mind. But as everyone grows carefree in the summer months, Khaled has grown comfortably content in his status as the world’s premier Snapchat life-coach.

God bless a man who loves his child, but may he also smite those who overdo it. While Khaled’s words of adoration and appreciation for his son exude nothing but positivity, he says nothing particularly unique or groundbreaking about Asahd, which can be expected; the boy is a baby, and though definitely a little miracle, he’s yet to perform any of his own. “You’re my son/I love you” is neither laziness nor brilliance, it’s just a fact, but simplicity is sort of how Khaled made it to the top. That being said, if it weren’t him and Chance the Rapper saying “I love you” 56 times in one sitting on “I Love You so Much”, no one would care at all to listen.

But Grateful bleeds corny the way Sia bleeds theatrics, so in a way, this came to be expected. It can be taken as a full listen, and it rolls along easily enough, but most likely listeners will just queue the songs they like and ignore the rest of the filler. This probably won’t bother Khaled at all, who’s built up such a name and reputation (and now family) for himself over the years, now’s the time he should enjoy rather than prove himself. C