In a world full of mindlessly pulsating bass and perfectly engineered electronic club noise, Vulfpeck again comes to modern day pop-funk’s rescue with the Nov. 7 release of the LA-based funk group’s third full-length album, Mr. Finish Line.
Throughout the album’s ten tracks of groovy harmonies, witty lyrics, and stank-face-worthy beats, the group creates a nostalgic motown sound. For music lovers fixing for uniquely old school, cleverly composed jams, Vulfpeck decks out that dosage without fail.
Founding members Joe Dart (bassist), Woody Goss (keyboardist), former My Dear Disco guitarist Theo Katzman, and keyboardist/drummer Jack Stratton met at the University of Michigan School of Music and came together in 2011. They released their debut six track EP Mit Peck, and several similar lengthed EPs throughout 2014. In March of 2014, Vulfpeck came up with Sleepify, initially an ironic joke that ended up raising $20,000 and funding a tour before ultimately being shut down by Spotify.
In 2015, they released their first album, The Thrill of the Arts, followed by The Beautiful Game in 2016, both of which spattered several Billboard charts, including R&B Albums. And now here’s Mr. Finish Line, which includes appearances by frequent contributors and collaborators like Joey Dosik, as well as Walker, drummer James Gadson, and none other than Bootsy Collins and Antwaun Stanley.
Antwaun Stanley’s soothing vocals play a part in Mr. Finish Line’s opening track, “Birds of a Feather, We Rock Together.” Complete with jazzy drums, catchy whistling, and a music video where Jack Stratton plays the pancakes, the track embodies the Vulfpeck essence: funky, both in terms of sound and in unconventionality.
Next, comes “Business Casual,” featuring Danish singer Coco O. With a voice akin to a young Michael Jackson, Coco O. sings some witty wordplay around keeping a relationship casual, including a twist on Oscar Wilde’s’ dying words “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do” with the lyrics, “Cause it’s me and this wallpaper and one of us has to go.” Additionally, the background synth repeats a line from the outro of the clarinet solo in Vulfpeck’s 2015 hit “Back Pocket”; the melody is also referenced in the outro of Mr. Finish Line.
Comprised of summery guitar riffs, fluttering harmonies courtesy of Theo Katzman and Christine Hucci, and an interlude of a sports announcer listing off “player’s” names in reference to different band members of Vulfpeck and some of their collaborators, the three minutes of title track “Mr. Finish Line” are full of quirky foot-tapping goodness.
There are a couple softer, more ballad-y crooners on Mr. Finish Line, including “Baby I Don’t Know Oh Oh,” “Running Away,” and “Grandma.” “Baby I Don’t Know Oh Oh” starts out with someone counting the musicians in, followed by a plinky piano and Charles Jones’ molasses voice come in with some killer saxophone. The song seems to be written from a brother to his troubled sibling about not knowing what to do with someone you care about who doesn’t care about you. Meanwhile, “Grandma” pulls at the heartstrings. It’s a lovely, old-timey motown ballad dedicated to the presence, wisdom, and kindness of the singer’s grandma.
“Running Away” also begins with voices murmuring in the background underneath and brief violin, before a solid beat kicks in and some soulful ooohs and echoing background vocals join the mix. The song explores what thoughts go into being infatuated with someone who doesn’t express their feelings and chooses to escape rather than facing the music.
Both “Tee Time,” with it’s erratic piano and upbeat drums that sound like it should be playing in the back of videogame, and “Vulf Pack,” with sexy bass plucking and psychedelic funk undertones, demonstrate just how talented the members of Vulfpeck are.
In short, Vulfpeck really is a wolf pack: a couple of boys who met in music school and finessed their way through streaming sites to bring some funk and disco into modern era. Ultimately, Mr. Finish Line suggests that there is much more in store for Vulfpeck’s musical future — in a sense, they are nowhere near their finish line.