EDM phenom Calvin Harris has upward 'Motion'

(Image courtesy of Columbia Records) (Image courtesy of Columbia Records)

 

When people think of the biggest artists in music right now, there are a few names that instantly come to mind. Beyoncé. Taylor Swift. Lady Gaga, assuming the dream of 2011 is alive in your heart.

Yet, nobody has been able to compete with the seemingly never-ending ticket sales and rollout of No. 1 hits by Scottish disc jockey/producer Calvin Harris, who has recently made headlines for being the best paid DJ in the whole world. People may not recognize his face or even his voice, but his presence at a venue is worth more than Katy Perry's. He is kind of a big deal.

The Calvin Harris empire has been built on a fairly predictable but undeniably effective foundation: bring in a popular top-40 artist like Rihanna, or even a has-been like Kelis, put their vocals atop a catchy house beat and watch brains explode as they build into an assaulting explosion of synth and bass.

Harris's work is simple and easily imitated but remarkably distinct. While it is easy to mistake a track credited to David Guetta for a release by the featured vocalist, Calvin Harris songs are immediately recognizable as such. It may not be that he has it down to a science as much as he just makes it look easy to churn out infectious diddies that dominate the radio for a year before a new batch of Harris tracks take over.

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That said, Calvin Harris's fourth studio album "Motion" seems to spin its wheels in place. The new tracks here sound awfully familiar, partly because a few of them have been radio mainstays for months now ("Summer") and many feature artists Harris has worked with before such as Ellie Goulding. An eclectic cast of characters pepper "Motion" with vocal stylings like they do in his prior albums.

The one change, or natural progression rather, comes from Harris' use of his own vocals. While he never shied away from using his own voice in a pinch (see "Colours"), there seems to be a lot more of him present on "Motion," no doubt tied to the huge success of his solo track "Feel So Close" from 2012's "18 Months." In someone else's hands, this would become grating quickly, as Harris simply does not have the strongest voice. But, as Harris is a producer first, he knows how to optimize what he has, and it works fine enough.

Unsurprisingly, the best tracks on the album are the ones most likely to achieve ubiquitous radio play due to their featured acts. The absurdly wonderful Haim sisters help Harris conceive the wonderful "Pray to God" while Big Sean's "Open Wide" is a hysterical hip-hop hit. Gwen Stefani's contribution, "Together," does not work particularly well as there is just no harmony between her voice and the track Harris produced for her. They are fine separately but have no chemistry together.

Calvin Harris is the biggest artist in one of music's fastest growing genres and "Motion" ably contributes to his terminal upward velocity. The album may depict a wildly successful artist resting on his laurels a bit, but it is forgivable. As the saying goes, if it is not broken, do not fix it. Harris is still one of the only prominent EDM artists producing work that can be enjoyed by those who are dancing and those who are sitting still. That can never stop being impressive.

Reach the reporter at zheltzel@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @zachheltzel.

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