Los Angeles-based instrumental quartet Vulfpeck is not your ordinary funk band. In fact, not much about Vulfpeck comes close to resembling ordinary. Conceived in a German literature class back in 2011 by four University of Michigan students, band founder and keyboardist/drummer Jack Stratton birthed the group’s concept as a “German version of the Funk Brothers” (the Funk Brothers being the session musicians who performed most of the instrumentals on the 1960s Motown records).
Their fourth EP Fugue State was released this past August independently on the group’s own label Vulf Records. Upon listening to this album, I found myself unable to accurately put my finger on both the sound and the indescribable feeling that these funky instrumentals had on me. Perhaps this cleverly speaks to the album’s title, which is a term for a “rare psychiatric disorder characterized by reversible amnesia for personal identity”. (http://bit.ly/1vdvqBY)
Regardless of the concept behind both the band and the album, Vulfpeck is truly an out-of-the-box and unorthodox funk band. In fact, the group made headlines in March after they released their debut album Sleepify exclusively on Spotify; an album containing 10 songs of silence, each around 30 seconds in length. Vulfpeck’s concept for the album was simple – they asked fans to listen to the album on repeat while they slept, in order to generate enough money in royalties for the band to play an admission-free tour. (Read the full article here: http://bit.ly/1l0wL8t)
While some skeptics might view this as a publicity stunt, Vulfpeck certainly silences any critics with the quick release of the refreshingly original Fugue State.
Everything about this album screams (or better yet, whispers) sex appeal. The simple, yet tight jazz drumming of Theo Katzman is perfectly accented by the beautifully syncopated and downright dirty bass lines of Joe Dart. This is immediately evident on one of my favorite tracks “Christmas in L.A.”, a four minute instrumental that is impossible not to groove to. Katzman also lays down funky guitar rhythms, while Jack Stratton and Woody Goss bring incredibly tasty keyboard and piano melodies to the table that shine brilliantly, especially on the infectious title-track. In addition, singer Antwaun Stanley brings a soulful vocal performance to “1612”, a song highly reminiscent of funk-pioneers The Meters.
As previously mentioned, Fugue State truly encapsulates Vulfpeck’s unique, modern interpretation of the vintage jazz and funk sound. This is evident throughout, from the retro album artwork designed by Stratton, to the VHS look of the “1612” video above, and most importantly, to the sound and feel of their music. While the band’s minimal sound approach and unconventional song structures clearly owe a nod of gratitude to the MoTown musicians of the 60’s and 70’s, nothing about this album comes off remotely as unimagined or unoriginal. On the contrary, Fugue State is a great example of how four white kids from Ann Arbor, Michigan can successfully re-invent a genre that has for so long been emanated by countless bands, often unfortunately without the precision and attention to detail that has clearly gone into this album.
-Mark McGwin 9/24/14