1. Calvin Harris- Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1
While he has released some catchy EDM tunes like "Sweet Nothing" ft. Florence Welch (lead singer of indie rock band Florence and the Machine) and "Blame" ft. John Newman, I have never been that big of a fan of Calvin Harris' discography. Like every other EDM artist, I consider him to be only a singles musician and nothing else, even though he has released four albums in the past decade but they are mediocre at best. Now, I will say that this new project right here, Harris has definitely found a sound that I think fits him very well as he goes for a synthpop, post-disco, and funk type of vibe on this release. However, while there are a few superb songs found on Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, it still didn't change my views on Harris not being an albums artist and it possessed many spotty moments throughout that made me lose interest.
Despite my mixed feelings about the record as a whole, it does contain some memorable, catchy, and groovy tunes that will definitely put it in the race for album of the summer. Songs like "Cash Out" ft. ScHoolboy Q, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and DRAM, "Slide" ft. Frank Ocean and Migos, and "Slide" ft. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, and Big Sean have these instrumentals with funky basslines, memorable and chill pianos, and foot tapping synthlines that help the album give off this beach-y and summer-y feeling throughout its less than 40 minute run time. The song that I felt to be my absolute favorite from this LP was without a doubt "Feels." From it's groovy and instantly memorable bassline to Pharrell Williams' ear-worming vocal performance on the verses (though I do realize that he's always been praised more for production and some people don't consider him to be a great vocalist, but most of the time I think he gets the job done on most of the songs he give his contributions to), this song has been on my playlist nonstop and it is for sure making it's case for record of the summer and possibly one of the best mainstream singles of the year. Even Katy Perry's Gwen Stefani-ish vocals on the chorus sound pretty good, even though I thought she could've done a lot more with her voice considering how funky and groovy the instrumental is.
But like I said earlier, this album does have it's rough spots and downfalls on it. Now, I would say from a production standpoint this record doesn't have many problems whatsoever as the instrumentals on each track made the album connect and flow smoothly as a whole and they do a good job sticking to a musical theme. However, where I think this project falls short for me is on the performances done by a few of the featured artists because some of their musical personas fail to do the instrumentals on these songs justice. Take the tune "Skrt On Me" ft. Nicki Minaj. While it does contain a pretty good instrumental that continues the albums synthpop/funk vibe, Minaj's vocals are what make this tune fall flat on its face and it's because of one reason: auto-tune. It seems strange to me that Harris and company decided to do this on her voice because when I've heard Minaj sing on some of her own songs from her albums in the past, she's actually not that bad of a singer in my opinion (if you don't believe me, go listen to her feature on Katy Perry's song "Swish Swish"). So why put annoying and ear-piercing vocal processors on her voice? It makes no sense to me whatsoever. While I will say that the instrumental isn't that bad to listen to, Minaj's feature ruins it for me and I most likely won't ever go back to it again because of that as it falls right off a cliff, and I'm talking a BIG cliff.
Another song I found to come up short due to the featured artists on it that failed to deliver was "Rollin" with Future and Khalid as both of them give mediocre at best contributions to the point where it feels like they don't belong on the song at all as they don't seem to fit the chill and head bobbing instrumental (which I thought overall was a pretty good one with its soft and smooth pianos, soulful background vocals, jazzy and brassy drums, funky bassline, and catchy synth-line) it provides them with. For Khalid, while I do think the way he sings the chorus fits the feeling and sound of the song, where his performance falls short for me is that his vocals crack a bit throughout which was a bit off-putting in my opinion. However, Future was the one who I felt really didn't fit this "feel-good" synthpop tune as his as always beloved auto-tuned vocals (see my bit of sarcasm there?) seem extremely out of place and prove once and for all that he is only meant to be on trap music instrumentals and nothing else (though I do appreciate his willingness to try his voice on a different sound).
To close this out, I will end by saying that this album took me by surprise and despite its many flaws, the record ended up being a somewhat adequate listen thanks to its few outstanding cuts. I can't believe I'm saying this, but for what it's worth, I like this Calvin Harris project for the most part. Props to you Mr. Harris. I look forward to Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2.
Favorite tracks: "Feels" ft. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, and Big Sean, "Slide" ft. Frank Ocean and Migos, "Prayers Up" ft. Travis Scott and A-Trak, "Cash Out" ft. ScHoolboy Q, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and DRAM
Least favorite tracks: "Rollin" (featuring Future and Khalid), "Skrt On Me" ft. Nicki Minaj, "Hard to Love" ft. Jessie Reyez
Album rating: 3/5
2. TLC- TLC
I have been pretty fond of TLC's past work as they released many classic Pop/R&B records throughout the 1990s (one of which was 1994's CrazySexyCool, an album that I consider to their best and one of the best projects to come out during the decade) and I consider them to be one of the greatest female groups/acts in the history of popular music. However, this thing. Oh, geez... this album. Where I do begin? I'm really going to make this review/opinion as short as I can because there are so, so many problems with this release that I can't cover in one piece of writing (one of which includes this album cover) and an extremely low amount of highlights. Though in TLC's defense, I won't be so harsh on this because they did make this record independently from donations given by fans and fellow celebrities on a Kickstarter campaign page, so they didn't have as big a budget as many major label acts are provided. But that doesn't mean I can't be critical of this album because if I were to describe this record with one word it would be: embarrassing.
Before I even listened to this final album of theirs, I knew it was projected by the now duo (RIP Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes) to be an album dedicated to their fans as a thank you for their passion and support that they have given them throughout their 20+ years in the music industry. So, all in all, I wasn't expecting much as far as a "revolutionary" pop record by any means. Although, I do want to give them mad props for wanting to come back one last time by releasing a new album and going on one last tour cycle before the group officially calls it quits. However, I couldn't believe how many drawbacks this album possessed on it and how lackluster the songwriting was throughout. I mean I wasn't expecting anything mind-blowing or game-changing off of this thing, but the constant cliches, annoying and lazily written choruses that consisted of "Ooo Ooo's," "Woah Woah's," and "Yeah Yeah's" (really? I know it's pop music, but really?), and uncharismatic vocal performances from both Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas (as well as some off-putting background vocals throughout, particularly on the song "American Gold") just made this thing a wasted 41 minutes and five seconds that I sadly will never get back. This record was like your mother buying you a pair of new socks, even though she knows that you really don't need them, and as a result they end up as nothing special and just a waste of money.
Like I said earlier, I acknowledge and respect the group for wanting to return to the popular music scene for the love of their fans and to make a mark one final time on their legacy. But in the end, I felt that this project proves how devastating and tragic the loss of "Left Eye" Lopes was for "T-Boz" and "Chilli,", and that they should have put the group to rest after her passing because they simply can't keep it going without Lopes' hard-nosed and funny personality, unending determination, and incredible flows. In the end, I would like to wish the best for the last two remaining members of TLC and want to thank them for the impressive amount of catchy and infectious Pop/R&B jams throughout an entire decade that was the 1990s and even into the early 2000s. However, it is going to be sad to look back on the fantastic career of this girl group and know that this record was how they ended it, when they should've ended it a long time ago.
Favorite tracks: "Way Back" ft. Snoop Dogg (mainly due to the decently catchy melody and groove of the instrumental)
Least favorite tracks: "Haters," "Start a Fire," "American Gold," "Scandalous," "Aye Mother***a"