band leaves fans
The Santa Clara
November 16, 2017
It’s not that I’m angry; I’m just disappointed.
“Mr. Finish Line” was an album with unparalleled potential. As the junior release of the nouveau-funk, superfood-powered supergroup Vulfpeck, this album boasted features by singer Charles Jones, Jackson 5 guitarist David T. Walker and funk legend Bootsy Collins. Coming on the heels of a tour across the U.S. and Europe, as well as two spectacular albums, expectations were high. Despite all this, Vulfpeck was just off the mark.
The album starts off strong with a cover of singer-songwriter Mocky’s, “Birds of a Feather, We Rock Together.” It’s catchy, smooth and well-produced.
The first chorus of the song introduces this with, “Birds of a feather, we rock together / And if we got a problem, we talk together / So let’s head down South, escape the bad weather / Oo ooh, oo ooh.” This lovely chant sets the tone for the song which explores the intricacies of commitment and true love. The song is beautiful, and it transitions into the somber following track.
The second track, “Baby I Don’t Know Oh Oh,” is a low-tempo groove, communicating the importance of youth. The song was originally released by composer Ryan Lerman with featured artist Ben Folds of “The Ben Folds Five.”
The first verse chants, “Baby I don’t know / What I’m gonna do with you / We found your little note / Shoulda had a talk with you.” A line seemingly from the perspective of some sort of parental figure, this song harkens back to the lectures everyone likely experienced as a child and has burned in their memory.
The question of what to do is explored later with the lines: “I called you on the phone / But I can’t get through to you.”Perhaps referencing some generational gap between parent and child, the singer is selfaware and discouraged. The lesson of the track comes in the bridge of the song with a heavy statement of, “We get older in slow motion / Don’t you throw it all away.”
Like the previous track, “Baby I Don’t Know Oh Oh” is an excellent song. So, you might ask, what’s the problem with the album so far?
We’ve heard most of it. Four of the tracks were released in their entirety before the album itself. On top of that, the track “Tee Time” which only clocks in at two minutes, fortynine seconds, was used in a promotional video for the album which ran a whole forty-nine seconds.
As such, this song was no mystery to avid Vulfpeck fans when the album dropped. All cards were on the table. Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of the issues with this release.
The biggest problem is that all of the best tracks were released to the public before the album came out in whole. Beyond those five select tracks, the rest of the album is nearly unlistenable. Melodies from earlier releases are recycled throughout the record.
The first few times, this seems funny and quirky. However, it quickly becomes a tired routine and, seemingly, lazy. The music also takes on a new tone, distinctly different from every other release put out by Vulfpeck.
Earlier releases leaned heavily on instrumental tracks with beautiful solos by each member of the group. The songs were engaging because each instrument was masterfully mixed — no single instrument stole the show on the track. On “Mr. Finish Line,” however, there is a new emphasis on vocal tracks and melodic instrumentation more than ever before.
For Vulfpeck purists, this divergence is an unfamiliar one; one which began in their previous release “The Beautiful Game.” Their emphasis on quirky, airy keyboards, high-pitched vocals and irreverent lyrics is best dubbed “cute funk.” While they maintain their individualistic sound, this new tone becomes irritating and uncomfortable for listeners.
This “cute funk” sound is illustrated best on the final track, “Captain Hook.” As the final piece on the album, the expectation stands that this track will be a satisfying, wholesome ending to the album for everyone to enjoy.
Unfortunately, this track is instead the most unlistenable song on the album. They go all in on pulling out all the cutesy stops. First, the high-pitched lead vocals are unbearable. Secondly, the intermittent samples are unneeded and distracting from the instrumentation. Sadly, even the instrumentation is problematic on the track.
The production is perhaps the worst on the album, and melodies are yet again recycled from older releases. Even bassist Joe Dart’s trademark soloing is replaced with a sample from a video on the “Vulf ” YouTube channel titled, “JAZZSCHOOLNONO.”
Perhaps the most cardinal sin of all on this piece is the underutilization of the featured artist Bootsy Collins. A funk icon since 1968, Bootsy’s work is pure gold. For him to grace this track is an incredible opportunity for the group. But Bootsy takes a backseat on the song, providing only the occasional, seemingly ad-libbed, line in the vocal track.
When the album comes to a close, it all just sets in. The album isn’t terrible. The album isn’t incredible. It’s simply unsatisfactory. Despite a handful of rather enjoyable pieces, the record as a whole blends into a singular, blasé collection of unremarkable riffs and melodies.
We can only hope this record is simply a learning experience, rather than a new trend in Vulfpeck’s music.
Contact Noah Sonnenburg at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.