Hello kids! This week at It Djents’ Spelling Adventures, we’re going to teach you how to properly spell the word ‘smooth’. So, I’ll count to three, and then we’ll all spell it out loud together, okay? Ready? Okay, here goes; 1-2-3: V–U–L–F–P–E–C–K. Huh? What do you mean that’s not how it’s spelt? That’s absolutely ridiculous, and I’ll show you why.
In case you don’t remember, I reviewed US-based funk/soul outfit Vulfpeck’s last album The Beautiful Game somewhere around this time last year as well (read it here, if you must), and came to the conclusion that they’re one of the coolest and most talented group of musicians in their field, today and in general. As you can imagine, then, I was giddy with excitement when they announced their new album Mr. Finish Line a while ago. The list of guests scheduled to appear on it (including funk legend Bootsy Collins, singer/songriter Joey Dosik and regular contributors Antwaun Stanley and Christine Hucal, among others) didn’t help cool down this excitement none, further adding to my impatience. And now that the wait for Mr. Finish Line has finally reached its end, let’s have a good look at it, why don’t we?
One thing you’ll indubitably notice early on when listening to this album is that there is less of a funk vibe to it, and more of a soul/r’n’b sound. In fact, opening song “Birds of a Feather, We Rock Together” (yes, the one with the pancake drums in the music video) is a good indication for the direction Vulfpeck took here for the most part. Featuring vocalist Antwaun Stanley singing in his unmistakable way over a beautifully arranged instrumental , it’s a rather slow, laid-back affair, perfect for that autumn afternoon stroll you’ll be dying (or maybe forced?) to have once the sun decides to show its face again. The slouching bass line, distant percussion sounds and bright clavinet lock into a wonderful groove, and the added whistling makes this an even more cheerful tune.
“Baby I Don’t Know Oh Oh”, the following song, mostly follows suit, albeit in an almost quiet storm-esque, downtempo make-up. Led by a prominent piano rhythm, and garnished with some select horn parts, it comes across as an old-school soul ballad. This is in no small part thanks to the deep, crooning vocal delivery by Charles Jones; a personal highlight of mine is when he goes for the high falsetto notes later on.
As per usual for Vulfpeck, we also get a few instrumentals on Mr. Finish Line, three in number to be exact. These are where the majority of the funk takes place. “Tee Time” is a bubbly, uptempo number, relying mostly on a steady drumbeat and lively piano runs; “Hero Town”, featuring drum colossus Michael Bland, takes things down a notch or two regarding tempo, but grooves beautifully, and the occasional clavinet flourishes and horns make it the best of the instrumental tracks in my opinion; and “Vulf Pack” takes the middle ground between the former two, providing both liveliness and groove in spades.
“Grandma” is the final track on Mr. Finish Line I would like to talk about here. The most striking feature of this particular track (aside from Stanley’s once more amazing vocals) is the prominent side-click on the snare, which the bass works around tightly, providing the best rhythm section performance on the album. Lyrically, the song deals with stories about the eponymous Grandma (presumably Stanley’s) and the societal topic of tradition. One of the most heartfelt numbers Vulfpeck have come up with to date, it easily makes up for the, for me at least, annoying final track “Captain Hook”.
As I’ve mentioned earlier on in this review, Mr. Finish Line is a more mellow and tranquil album than what we’ve come to know from this band. While it definitely has its faster, more danceable tunes, the enhanced focus on a smooth atmosphere makes for a whole different experience than what Vulfpeck’s previous œuvre had to offer. And even though I must confess that I do prefer their last album The Beautiful Game over this new release, it’s nevertheless another great album by an unnervingly consistent and likably quirky band. Vulfpeck are on top of the game right now, and I highly doubt that that’ll change any time soon.
Notable Tracks: “Baby I Don’t Know Oh Oh”; “Mr. Finish Line”; Business Casual”
FFO: Hiatus Kaiyote, Donny Hathaway, Sinkane, Menahan Street Band