Album Review: Vulfpeck’s The Beautiful Game

Author: Dane Mckittrick

Vulfpeck was formed in 2011 from a group of friends at the University of Michigan and has since released seven albums of their truly unique sound. Their style comes off as funk upon first review, but takes influence from all over the music spectrum, from semi-electronic to jazz. Their most recent album The Beautiful Game, released in October of 2016 is no exception, and seems to cover more musical diversity than any other album of theirs. For instance, their previous albums New Car and Fugue state were excellent in establishing their own brand of new funk. They were by no means repetitive, but had a definite similarity between most tracks on them. The Beautiful Game, however, is a bit of a different animal.

Right out of the gate, the opening track, “The Sweet Science”, seems downright classical. With its lengthy clarinet solos and lonesome feel, it’s almost as if the listener walked into part of Rhapsody in Blue. But this is far from establishing a tone for the album. The very next track, “Animal spirit”, is so different and upbeat it is difficult to believe that the first two songs came from the same artist. It appears to draw more from The Jackson Five than anything, let alone a modern funk band. It isn’t until the third track “Dean Town” that the listener gets a taste of the keyboard heavy funk that Vulfpeck fans are used to. But this doesn’t last long as we’re led into the fast, pop feel of “Conscious Club”. From the disjunct blues-esque guitar riffs of “El Chepe” to even placing a new vocal track over the entirety a previous album’s cover track “First Car”, The Beautiful Game is truly all over the place. One of the main differences of this album is the variety and number of vocal features. Most of Vulfpeck’s work has been instrumental up until this point. Really the only vocal part in previous albums was the spectacular voice of Antwaun Stanley. While The Beautiful Game does include Antwaun, he’s only in two tracks and shares the album with several other singers and speakers.

When all is said, done, and heard, The Beautiful Game stands out as an obvious experimental album for Vulfpeck. While it isn’t my personal favorite record by the group, it shows clear merit with the band’s getting out of their comfort group, while still creating some pretty great jams.