Calvin Harris '18 Months'
Calvin Harris must wake up some mornings in a hotel suite on the other side of the world and wonder just exactly what happened. Not the night before; from what we can judge from his vociferous twittering, he’s still more concerned with breakfasts than partying. But the point when his career simply exploded into a glorious, synth-heavy fireball that now threatens to consume everything around it, including established kingpins like David Guetta.
There is no other phrase for it. Even when his second album Ready For The Weekend went gangbusters in this country, seeing him appear higher up on EDM festival line-ups, Harris was considered the left-field choice -- he had practically zero traction in America. He composed, performed, produced and sang mostly all of his own music, preferring to put his own stamp on bangers so often outsourced to big name vocalists. It allowed him to have his own sense of Scottish cheek, in a genre that is so high on its own success that it rarely takes the chance to laugh at itself. After all, he couldn’t have imagined that early tracks like ‘The Girls’, with its preposterous refrain "I get all the girls, I get all the girls" sequenced over three octaves would eventually become a tangible reality. Or that his DIY, ‘80s-aping falsetto would be replaced by some of the best in the world. But look at the man’s production history, from Kylie Minogue through to Scissor Sisters and it becomes clear. He’s earned it.
18 Months is not really a surprise because sometime in the English summer of 2011, the Calvin Harris Life Goals Machine went into overdrive. He managed smashed the radio with six hit singles in a row on both sides of the Atlantic. 90% of them featured outside artists, a change Harris absorbed so easily that you’d think he’d always been a Dr Luke, rather than an electronic Bedroom Philosopher. The great ones, including ‘Bounce’, which pretty much resurrected Kelis’ career for the tenth time and ‘Let’s Go’ brought the energy. But where Harris has managed to hit a sweet spot is in that dramatic, emotional end of house music that makes you feel like the world is ending the minute you hear it. That trifecta that secured not only the passage of these songs to the top of the charts but also 18 Months; ‘Feels So Close’, ‘We Found Love’ and ‘Sweet Nothing’ are undeniably some of the best pop tunes released in the last 18 months (hence the title). Unlike Swedish House Mafia, or Avicii, or even some more recent attempts by Guetta, they just refuse to get old.
Much of this has to do with Harris’ production and mixing, all done in-house at his own Fly Eye studios in London. He knows exactly what’s needed to push a song over the edge and fall permanently onto the sticky residue in your hippocampus. Sometimes it’s simple; a devastating chord progression mixed with a shifting, descending bass line like ‘We Found Love’; the matching of siren-like synths to match Florence Welch’s characteristic intensity on ‘Sweet Nothing’; the running leap towards infinity in ‘Feels So Close’. Other times it’s far more subtle; the way he’s flattened the drums to make room for the chords, the attention to detail paid in the outros to songs, the thick layering of sound sources so complex that it would take twenty years to unravel them all.
Despite the album being bloated with too many guests (a result of increased US attention, no doubt, where nearly every song in the chart has to ‘feature’ someone) there are still shades of the smart-ass Calvin peeking through the anthems. The instrumental tracks like ‘School’ and ‘Green Valley’, his homage to the art of French electro composition and perhaps his own version of ‘skits’, become his way of having a final word after a heady rush of adrenalin. There's also completely bonkers choices: ‘Awooga’ is a Euro-trash hangover from early on in the recording sessions that he decided to throw in there anyway, while getting back in the studio with Dizzee Rascal—who gave Harris one of his early breaks by picking up his track ‘Dance Wiv Me’—even though he didn’t need to and could have easily supplemented the often-indiscernible MC with someone like Lil Wayne, further increases his chances of complete world domination.
Harris has now hit the big leagues and it’s unlikely he’ll be turning back any time soon. But his writing remains intelligent, and the best pop music is also the most deceptively simple. There’s undoubtedly more to ‘We Found Love’ than most festival-goers will ever remotely imagine, and the endorphin-boosting beats that propel his world-beating tracks forward are the product of experience remixing and working with some of the most diverse range of clients on Earth, from Katy Perry to Cut Copy. His is a format which defies the concept of albums, and where one half-decent song can turn an unknown into a million-dollar floor-filler in months.18 Months seems both redundant and totally necessary; many of the best songs already exist out there, but hearing them collected together really gives a proper insight into just how talented this guy is. And as far as EDM goes, our ears have never had it this good.