Vulfpeck vibes: reviewing their latest album

Michigan-based funk band Vulfpeck’s new album, “Mr. Finish Line,” dropped Tuesday, Nov. 7, and promises to provide fans with fascinating and unique songs.

This will be the group’s seventh release and their third full-length album, coming in at ten tracks total. “Mr. Finish Line” is Vulfpeck’s follow up to their 2016 release, “The Beautiful Game,” which was the group’s most diverse and commercially successful record to date.

Those interested in the music distribution industry may remember Vulfpeck from their 2014 Spotify exclusive “Sleepify,” which featured ten half-minute tracks of pure silence for fans to play on repeat as they slept. The group received an estimated $20,000 in royalties from this album which they then used to finance an admission-free tour that same year.

Those following the festival scene might be familiar with Vulfpeck as they have been playing at an ever-increasing array of fests, including Sasquatch, Outside Lands, Okeechobee, Bonnaroo and more.

“Mr. Finish Line” will be Vulfpeck’s third release to be entirely crowdfunded, meaning fans donated via the internet. Four days before the album’s release, the band had raised $151,243 from 4,797 backers. This represents fans’ ever-growing support, and in 2016 the band raised over $100,000 from their ambitious $1 Kickstarter goal to finance the release of “The Beautiful Game.”

This crowdfunding dynamic is no mistake, as Vulfpeck prides itself on the band’s independence, operating out of their own record label, Vulf Records, using a housemade compressor (Vulfcompressor, available from Goodhertz) in their production, and maintaining a direct, open relationship with their fans.

This has allowed the group to stay afloat in the niche-market of independent minimalist funk long enough to gain more widespread recognition outside the likes of Berkley students and jazz nerds.

In addition to financial uniquity, the group also employs an uncommon dynamic among the musicians—a theme that is very present in “Mr. Finish Line.” Rather than having a single ever- present lead player, the band attempts to emulate the session musicians and live rhythm sections of the 60s and 70s.

This allows Vulfpeck to feature a wide array of guest vocalists and instrumentalists, with every track possessing unique qualities while still being distinctly “vulf.”  Of the three singles released so far, two feature guest vocalists, while one features legendary session drummer Michael Bland, who proves to be anything but bland.

The soothing “Birds of a Feather (We Rock Together)” features long-time collaborator and soul powerhouse Antwaun Stanley. “Birds of a Feather” also showcases the group’s subtle, toned-down style, all the parts are integral to the track, with no single player overpowering or overshadowing the others. Antwaun’s soft yet full vocals feel intimate in the least creepy way.

The video released for this track proves Vulfpeck has no shortage of creative and engaging ways to shoot footage of six guys grooving, and also pioneers using the portable flapjack grill as percussion instrument. Antwaun-led tracks have always been the group’s most commercially successful releases (“1612”, “Wait For the Moment”) and based on video views, “Birds” will be no exception.

The instrumental “Hero Town” continues the tradition of Vulfpeck inserting fascinating and engaging moments into their tracks. This comes in the form of a captivating 20 second drum break from Michael Bland (best known for his work with Prince). The track also includes some absolutely wholesome saxophone from longtime friend of the band, Joey Dosik, and a relaxing keyboard performance from member, Jack Stratton, a performance he describes simply as “positivity.”

The rest of the record features performances from heavy weights in the world of rhythm including veterans of the Motown record label. Listeners can look forward to performances from the likes of James Gadson, who has recorded with The Temptations, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, among others, as wells as David T. Walker, the guitarist on the Jackson 5 hit “ABC.”

Beyond legendary features, the album will be sure to benefit from the band’s members as well, including the subtle stylings of keyboardist Woody Goss, pleasant strummings from guitarist/drummer/vocalist Theo Katzman, and more than a couple virtuosic bass performances from Joe Dart.

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