Album Review: Vulfpeck, ‘The Beautiful Game’

Written by Andrew Howie

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I just saw Vulfpeck for the first time at LOCKN’ a couple months ago, and I’ve written about them before; they are one of the most exciting young bands on the scene these days. From their anti-industry business tactics (see their silent album Sleep) and minimalist approach to live performance, Vulfpeck are an anomaly in modern music. Forgoing the spectacle of a gigantic production, their talent comes to the forefront, as the band members switch instruments and lead vocal duties throughout a show. It’s really something to watch. Their studio albums are joyous affairs, full of innovative harmonies, funky drums, prominent bass, and an inescapable groove that sets up shop in your bones and doesn’t leave.

Vulfpeck’s newest record, The Beautiful Game, continues this spirit, with the bass at the forefront again, leading the charge of amped-up dance funk. The vocals are of course top notch (if you’ve listened to Vulfpeck before, you know how they can sing). They’re clearly starting to come into their own; the songwriting on The Beautiful Game is just a bit more confident than previous efforts, and they take a few more risks, delving deep into some grooves where before they might have trailed off into more conventional waters.

As far as highlights go, Vulfpeck more than most bands deserves to have their albums listened to straight through, as it sounds like the band is right there in your living room. But if you’re looking for real standouts, for me “El Chepe” is the highlight. Half New Wave honky-tonk, half Professor Longhair, all instrumental, it’s all of my favorite Vulfpeck tricks in one: juicy organ, train drums, the bass in the lead, and innovative melodic runs that keep you on your toes. It is by no means the only highlight (be sure and check out “Margery, My First Car” and album opener “The Sweet Science”), just the one that happened to stand out to me on first listen.

One other thing about Vulfpeck that really sets them apart is the energy of their recordings. They just sound like they’re having so much fun, and with the increased production on The Beautiful Game they sound positively exuberant. They didn’t land spots at Bonnaroo and LOCKN’ for nothing, and this album will make them heavy hitters in the years to come. Look for them coming to your town; you do not want to miss these guys.

Vulfpeck may have been around for a few years, but this is truly their arrival. If you haven’t been paying attention to them before now, I urge you to listen to this. It’s progressive funk at its finest: music you can listen to in the morning before work, on your lunch break walk to get a sandwich, on a nice evening drive, or just jamming out on the porch. It’s some of the most intelligent music I’ve heard from an emerging artist, and I look forward to hearing them stretch this out live. Enjoy my friends, and as always, happy listening!

Rating: 9 out of 10