Vulfpeck’s “Thrill Of The Arts” review

Vulfpeck’s long awaited debut LP was released last week after a string of annual EPs since 2011. Known for their unique interpretation of minimalist funk, Thrill Of The Arts brings something new, yet familiar to the table. This marks the end of a strictly instrumental era, save for two collaborations with an old singing bandmate. This new album features a variety of vocalists including Antwaun Stanley, Charles Jones, and their drummer Theo Katzman, keeping their familiar Motown feel intact with sporadic instrumentals.

Rightfully named “Welcome to Vulf Records,” the opening track features an instrumental medley of Vulfpeck’s past along with new material woven in. Some personal favorites included in this nostalgia-inducing mashup are “Sky Mall,” “First Place,” and “Outro.” The song ends with the iconic Vulf Records melody that usually begins each release and music video. If I had to choose one song to sum up Vulfpeck, this song would be it.

“Back Pocket,” the first single (and second track) off this record, was released two weeks ahead of the album, and not only did it create unexpected hype for the upcoming record, but interesting expectations as well. Katzman on lead vocals and guest vocalist Christine Hucal provide a unique funk duet. The standard Vulfpeck instrumentation also carries here, featuring a driving bass line, a Fender Rhodes, drums, and piano all molded together to form a smooth funk track. Conga drums and jazzy clarinets are among the oddities this song has behind it, but these interesting choices show that despite what sound they are going for, this act can groove like no other modern band.

Antwaun Stanley, known for collaborating with Vulfpeck on the commercially-successful “Wait for the Moment” and “1612,” drives “Funky Duck.” For the third appearance, his soulful voice continues to impress with piercing highs and deep lows that exemplify his gospel singing background. Jack Stratton plays the clavinet, mirroring Joe Dart’s synthlike bass line to produce a very fluid backing track for Antwaun to jam over.

“Rango II,” a sequel to the song from their first EP, again dives into Vulfpeck’s instrumental leanings. While it is very similar to the original track, this iteration adds a new dimension by including two guitars to give it an even more country-western feel than before. Again we see Katzman, but this time he’s taken to the guitar, playing in conjunction with keyboardist Woody Goss. Having two non-native guitarists is intriguing because they both bring an interesting style from other instruments into their performances, improving on every aspect of the original like a sequel should.

Another highlight, “Game Winner,” features Charles Jones as a guest vocalist. Jones is no stranger to the group; he would accompany them on stage to sing some 70s tunes at their live shows. This fresh take on a slow soulful jam shows off Vulfpeck’s great songwriting, with the musical timbre fitting the words extremely well and giving an opportunity to show off each instrument without overshadowing. This song symbolizes all that Vulfpeck stands for: in their aspirations in emulating Motown’s house band, the Funk Brothers, and their efforts to resurge love for an old genre, the band captures that recreation to a welcoming audience.