I never thought I’d jam out to Harris’ brand of electronic assimilation, but “We Found Love” found its way into my psyche. When I saw 18 Months pop up on my internet radar, I was intrigued at how the formula would hold up beyond a three-minute single.
The introduction to this album is probably what Calvin Harris sounds like in the mind of Calvin Harris. It sounds lush and progressive, the “oh” sample like a watermark of relevance, but any satisfaction you get from this will surely be cut-short in the proceeding 30 minutes of derivative pop. Most of 18 Months feels like something you’d never hear outside of Top 40 radio.
Indeed, the songs are too immediate for clubs and the ‘dance breakdowns’ are far too short to breakdown and dance to. Everything, even when it’s working, rises and falls too quickly; the plateaus flash past long before you can make a connection to them. This means that whether you’re in the club or in casual listening, Harris’ music feels anxious. It’s as if he’s trying to compress hours of letting go into a ten-second hook, only to repeat the process one minute later. It’s exhausting.
This scatter-shot, manic approach to recreating a lead single is nothing new in pop music, but unlike others, Harris does lift these restraints — if only for a song or two. Take for instance, “Here 2 China”, an honest balance of electronic music and hip hop with neither style dominating the other. Dizzee’s rap doesn’t feel like a backdrop to the chorus, as do most rap-elec hybrids, but instead a driving pulse. He raps in harmony with Harris’ machinery and the result is Hip Hop with a refreshed formula. It’s exciting.
Another high-point stems from the tormented vocals of Florence Welch, better known for her Florence And The Machine cerebral-pop project. Here, smack-dab in the middle of the album, she adds some much needed soul. Welch is singing about how she is elevated upon the promise of “something unknown” and when Harris responds, it feels like REACTION. Yes, “Sweet Nothing” is a powerful song, but amongst such empty music it juts out-of-place.
His talents cannot speak for themselves over the course of 18 Months; he sounds at his best when settling down to illuminate the spotlight for another. This is never more evident than when the unrelenting, clearchannel pop comes to a screeching halt for interludes like “Mansion” and “School”. Presumably meant for more “serious” fans of electronic music (as in, when you heard “We Found Love”, it was Harris you were curious about, not Rihanna), these songs feel like an homage to music found far, far away from this album. “School”, in title, might just be a reference to Daft Punk’s “Homework”; “Mansion” a celebration of Acid House. Now, what are these tributes doing amongst 11 iTunes’ singles? What is “Awooga” doing tucked between Ne-Yo’s most off-key moment and a love ballad?
There’s a problem here and it’s that Calvin Harris treated this album as a compilation. Deadmau5 took the same approach on <Album Title Goes Here>; for someone with an established sound and personality, this can be exciting. For someone who’s pillaging for more hits in the same vein as “We Found Love”, it comes off like an advertisement for Top 40 radio. When not making poptronic, he’s making some tunes that wake you up and get you interested to hear what’s next. However, what’s next is seven more minutes of soulless collaboration with no relief in site. I’m sure Harris is having a blast and is making great strides as a producer, but you’d never know that from listening to 18 Months.
Listen: “Sweet Nothing”