This Vulfpeck article was written by Kevin Browne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Nick Roseblade
Those familiar with Michigan based German/American rhythm section Vulfpeck may think they know what to expect on their latest release “Thrill of the Arts”; long instrumental funk jams with some lashings of bass and slow, snare heavy drum beats. While their latest album contains all of the above, fans will be delighted to hear they’re not only staying true to this winning formula, but are boldly switching up their modus operandi.
Many of you may be familiar with the band’s genius Spotify self-funding campaign “Sleepify”; a campaign that saw the band raise a middle finger to Spotify by releasing a silent album for users to stream while they slept. However, when they’re not employing cunning Robin Hood style marketing tactics to win over fans, they happen to make astounding music too.
“Thrill of the Arts” sees Vulfpeck grow from young pups to alpha males as they explore new terrain. Where previous albums “Fugue State” and “My First Car” used a tape recording effect to give their music a more homespun feel; Thrill of the Arts seems to have abandoned this trademark in favour of a more glossy and pristine ambience. While Vulfpeck are no strangers to employing the talents of guest singers to their tracks, the presence of R&B singers like Antwaun Stanley and Charles Jones unquestionably adds a new dimension to their sound. The presence of lyrics on tracks like “Back Pocket” and “Funky Duck” equips the song with a narrative, inviting the listener into the world of their mad (but brilliant) mind.
“Thrill of the Arts” interlaces songs of full on funkadelic fury with silky smooth slow-jams in equal measure; the latter of which includes the track “Game Winner”. CharlesJones borrows from TeddyPendergrass and LutherVandross for his zealous contribution to the song while legendary guitarist David T. Walker (once a frequent contributor to the likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder) adds a charming and serene jazz texture to the mix.
With their grainy music videos and improvisational recording techniques, one gets the impression that Vulfpeck values the DIY ethos dearly. To capture Christine Hucal’s whispery vocals on “Back Pocket”, the band’s drummer/guitarist Theo Katzman shipped a USB microphone to Hucal whilst she was moonlighting as a children’s hospital nurse. The result of this process gives us the album’s strongest and most ridiculously infectious track.
“Back Pocket” tells a tale of innocent childhood crushes and references to the exchange of love letters which is guaranteed to leave listeners feeling that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. As the song reaches its post chorus bridge, the vocals take on a whole new delivery, similar to Michael Jackson circa 1970. In fact, the song is so classically catchy, you’ll convince yourself you’ve heard it somewhere before.
The opening track “Welcome to Vulf Records” sees them experiment with new ideas once again by tinkering with the concept of irregular time signatures. Its Zappa-esque arrangement may remind some listeners of the classic “Peaches en Regalia”.
Vulfpeck have become renowned for their keen sense of humour which shines particularly brightly on this album. As well as including a guided meditation track, “Thrill of the Arts” even has a Christmas song “Christmas in L.A.”. Serving as a satirical representation of Xmas number ones, the song makes standard references to yuletide cheer with the obligatory sleigh-bell backing track. Although a parody, this is no reflection on its merit as a song. In fact, “Christmas in L.A.” would serve as sweet relief to any pop star fresh off the X-Factor conveyor belt we usually grind our teeth to.
Ultimately, “Thrill of the Arts” shows us how confident in their own abilities the group has become. Where previous albums displayed how viscerally talented as individual instrumentalists their members are, “Thrill of the Arts” shows the gargantuan potential they possess. This album marks a shift in the Vulfpeck paradigm showing a band that evolves and leaves us eagerly awaiting the next project, whatever bizarre and wonderful form it may take.