Calvin Harris has never shied from making sharp turns. Just as artistic restlessness helped transform him from an indie-disco tyro to a dance-pop titan in time for his third and fourth albums, 18 Months (2012) and Motion (2014), it also urged him to slip away from the main room for vibrant but unhurried explorations of funk and disco on 2017’s Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 1. There are no such creative pivots on Vol. 2. That’s not simply because the lush, summery atmospheres of Vol. 1 offer a lovely place to rest awhile, but because Harris knew there was still work to be done. His tempos slowed on Vol. 1, but he’d approached a lot of that album as a dance producer—making electronic beats. “With this one, I was like, ‘I wanna have live drums and I wanna have guitar,’” he tells Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. “I want the layers and the grit and the dirt. And I don't want everything to be mixed perfectly. I want things to be like Sly & The Family Stone when it’s just mixed on the fly and it’s like, ‘Oh, he's gonna do a solo now!’ And you’ve got to turn him up and he’s too loud. I just want to feel it in my chest—in a good way.”
On Vol. 2, the bass bobs, squelches, and throbs, always in the pursuit of a deep, languid groove. Keys glimmer like sunlight on the waters of a tax-haven harbor, while guitars chuck and chop to disco rhythms. Tapping through his contacts, Harris brings artists together in intriguing combinations. Jorja Smith and Lil Durk open up two distinct lanes of heartbreak on “Somebody Else,” the Brit singer-songwriter delivering self-respecting frustration, the Chicago rapper bristling with disbelieving indignation. Pharrell, Halsey, and Justin Timberlake, meanwhile, stir longing, abandon, and anticipation together for a night of adventure on “Stay With Me.”
Harris doesn’t call on these names just to gild his music; he’s interested in artists who can bring new, unexpected textures to the songs. Take Young Thug’s capricious flow, circling around Dua Lipa on “Potion”: “Like, how does he think of these things and these flows and the way that he weaves around the beat in a way that I could never, ever even imagine?” says Harris. “Being in the studio with him when he is recording and hearing the process and where he ends up is just like the brain is somewhere else. His mind is that of a genius. It’s amazing to witness it.”
The mood is largely balmy and upbeat. 21 Savage audits the trappings of his success on “New Money,” while Stefflon Don, Chlöe, and Coi Leray celebrate resilience and independence with “Woman of the Year.” Busta Rhymes tries to hurry along the smooth funk of “Ready or Not” with rat-a-tat playfulness, and even a lovelorn Charlie Puth—suddenly sounding a lot like Michael McDonald—is lifted by buoyant yacht rock and Shenseea’s island spice on “Obsessed.” It all reflects the joy Harris finds in collaborating. “It gets me excited about making music,” he says. “I can work with artists and they can express themselves in a way that they can’t do on their own music—whether it be [because of] record label politics or what their fans expect of them. It’s like, ‘No pressure. I’ll give you a platform to go and have a laugh. I can promise you it’ll sound good. Might not be a hit, but you'll have a good time. And you might just end up on a tune with someone that you would never dream of.’ If I can convey that, then usually people are up for it.”
These days, an extra layer of fun in listening to a Calvin Harris album comes from trying to spot the exit ramp—the clues about where his next sudden turn might take him. Here, that might be found in “Lean on Me,” where Swae Lee wistfully mourns the end of summer against a gauze of dream-pop guitars that’s pierced by a soft-rock solo. Even as he’s inviting you to bask in the warmth and celebration a little longer, Harris is already thinking about where to head when the party’s over.