These guys look life fun. Who are they?
Vulfpeck. In other words, keyboardist Woody Goss and bassist Joe Dart, and multi-instrumentalists Jack Stratton and Theo Katzman (ed. note: that's also Cory Wong on the guitar and Joey Dosik on the sax. Woody Goss is somewhere to toward stage right). They hail from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and make witty—
Hang on a minute, ‘multi-instrumentalists’?
Really? Eh, fine. Jack Stratton plays drums, guitar, keyboards and trombone, with Theo Katzman on vocals, drums, congas and guitar. All four of them compose, too.
Neat. What do they do with all those instruments?
As I was saying, they make witty, self-aware, occasionally bizarre but always tasty funk. Their sound is characterised by a simplicity and rawness that aims to capture the essence of live performance. Even when their tracks feature complex instrumental arrangements, each part has a clear role and occupies its own place in the mix, and has likely been played in live. They blend synths, tape recording, compression and mouthwatering bass licks with a contagious energy and a healthy sense of humour, which extends to their videos as well.
Define ‘mouthwatering bass lick’.
I think I’ll leave that up to Joe Dart, actually.
Yeah, I know that’s what it’s called. Oh, right, the bass playing. Yeah, that too.
Beastly is where it all began for Vulfpeck. They’ve come a long way since then, but have managed to stay deeply funky.
Does it get funkier?
It gets funkier.
Can you stop making boring puns on the titles of their songs?
Whatever. Let’s talk about The Beautiful Game, their most recent album, which came out a few weeks ago. This one was a true team effort, with a 14-strong list of collaborators including vocalist Antwaun Stanley, guitarist Cory Wong and saxophonist Joey Dosik. Get stuck into listening to it over at Bandcamp (https://vulfpeck.bandcamp.com/), which also has the rest of their discography.
They’re as tight as ever on The Beautiful Game, but stray into all sorts of different directions. Sensual clarinet from the mouth of Michael Winogrand, drawing on the sounds of Klezmer music, opens the album on ‘The Sweet Science’—not exactly a characteristic Vulfpeck sound, but one that can be seen as readying you for your expectations to be defied. Things soon perk up with the sounds of ‘Animal Spirits’, which is as pure a pop-funk groove as you’ve heard since the Jackson 5. The album doesn’t let up much after that, with more irresistible funk and filthy basslines in ‘Cory Wong’, ‘Dean Town’ and ‘Daddy, He Got a Tesla’. ‘El Chepe’ is a little more relaxing but sits just right in the context of the album, the almost country-and-western slide guitar bringing to mind earlier releases like Rango. Their bizarre humour combined with their pop sensibilities show up in ‘Conscious Club’.
What’s up with the weird dialogue and bizarre references?
Their humour takes a little getting used to, I’ll give you that. Give it a bit of time, and delve through their YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/DJparadiddle) for some context. It’s well worth it. Many of their tracks reference other things they’ve done, either as sequels or by adding vocals to an older song, like ‘Margery, My First Car’, which drapes Christine Hucal’s dreamlike vocals over old favourite ‘My First Car’. Personal favourite videos of mine include the early release ‘Cars Too’—just try not to get too stressed out by Katzman’s glasses nearly falling off for 3 minutes straight.
I could go on and on about various older releases like Back Pocket and Funky Duck, but I’m going to stop here and leave you to discover more for yourself. Give these guys just a little bit of your time and they’ll probably worm their way into your ear and keep you tapping along for a long time.
You’re getting the hang of this. See you next week!