Adam Richard Wiles, better known as Calvin Harris, has taken the EDM world by storm. The 30-year-old producer has had nine Billboard Hot 100 hits and earns an estimated $66 million a year, making him the highest paid DJ in the world.
His fourth album, “Motion,” released on Oct. 31, not surprisingly follows Harris’s line of success. The album features the top hits “Summer,” “Under Control” and “Blame,” the last of which is currently 21st on the iTunes top-100 chart.
EDM typically gets a bad rep with accusations of commercialization, the same beats overlaid with various vocal melodies. The once new and exciting genre has become a profit-oriented tool played in the background of drunken parties and an excuse to go to neon, shiny concerts.
Calvin Harris simultaneously bolsters and negates these accusations. While yes, his music is repetitive, commercial and created to appeal to the masses, he has also established a unique style that is undeniably likeable.
“Under Control” emanates an upbeat, exhilarating vibe. Thirty seconds in, you may as well be crowd surfing at a music festival or dancing on the beach — the track pulls you in deeper as the tempo builds. When you reach the climax of the up-beats and the chorus hits, you become completely absorbed by the music. The track is perfect for getting ready for a night out or for playing in the background at a party. However, when you examine the song more closely, it is rather superficial. The lyrics are a simple repetition of meaningless lines that do not match the tempo or the melody. The beat makes you want to let your hair down and be spontaneous, yet the lyrics mainly consist of the repeated line “We’re under control”.
Other tracks lack these catchy beats and are simply mediocre. If “Faith” or “Burnin” came onto shuffle, I’d probably skip them 45 seconds in. These tracks lack originality and contribute to EDM’s growing reputation for repetitive, cliched electronic background noise.
Other songs, however, have original riffs that stand out. “Slow Acid” is relatively mellow for the first couple minutes. Three minutes in, however, the synthesized bass goes from its mellow rhythm to a thrilling buzz, mixing up the song and radiating with a momentary high. The instrumental also distinguishes itself from today’s typical vocals-on-electronic-background sound, leaving the listener truly engaged in the beat and feel of the song.
“Overdrive” shares similar characteristics. Also an instrumental, the song carries a more fast-paced beginning. This rise in tempo keeps the listener wanting more, eagerly anticipating the drop. The mumbling in the background as the tempo builds contributes to the excited, frenzied feel. However, the drop is less satisfying than in “Slow Acid.” It is relatively similar to the other parts of the song and left me a little disappointed.
One of Harris’ signature moves is his collaboration with big-name artists like Haim, Ellie Goulding and Gwen Stefani. Seeing a recognizable name makes me more likely to listen to the song to listen to. Hearing the recognizable voice immediately makes the song more likeable. “Outside” and “Together,” featuring Ellie Goulding and Gwen Stefani respectively, both feature crowd-pleasing, sing-along lyrics. However, these tracks are also commercial and predictable, created primarily for mass appeal.
“Summer” is the ultimate anthem. Although it was released earlier as a single, the track represents every one of Calvin Harris’ strengths. It contains the likeable, familiar beats of other tracks, but it’s more unique than that. It features Harris’ own vocals, instead of the featured pop-star copout. The lyrics coincide with the feel of the song. “Blue skies?” “Heartbeats?” The words are glistening, happy and exhilarating. Thanks to a timely release in March, which allowed time for the song to gain popularity and then explode at the beginning of the summer, the song is now associated with good vibes and general happiness. Everything about the track is spot-on. There is a reason “Summer” was a Billboard Top 10 hit.
Overall, the album lacks a cohesive flow. The tracks are created more for single hit explosions, rather than a flow of melodies to sit down and listen to in order. This can be attributed to Harris’ focus on crowd-pleasing charm, but it detracts from the quality of the album as a whole.
“Motion” contains stellar individual tracks. Feel-good melodies that are perfect for background and party music, they emanate good vibes and excitement. However, the depth of the music is less than stellar, and it mostly lacks originality. Many of Harris’ old albums, such as “I Created Disco” and “Ready for the Weekend,” were more unique, exciting, and lyrical. “Motion” seems to be magnetized toward EDM’s new model of unoriginality. Nevertheless, certain aspects of the album — individual tracks, exceptional beat-ups and risers and the overall feel — will keep it on the radar for a while.