The Los-Angeles group Vulfpeck, known for assuming a 70s, funk-accented sound, have released Hill Climber. Let’s take a look at their fourth album and the exponential rise of their career.
If their latest album, Hill Climber (released December 7), continues the musical lineage of the former three, then the funk groove that characterizes them is still very much present. Staying true to form, the album itself is a continuous surprise – Vulfpeck assures eclecticism. From the very soulful “Darwin Derby,” which recalls the Jackson 5, to Theo Katzman’s pop tones on the opener “Half of the Way” and “Lonely Town,” through to the funky groove of “Lost My Treble Long Ago,” the album remains unified by the solid funky sound of the rhythm section.
On the last track of the album, “It Gets Funkier IV,” fourth in the “It Gets Funkier” series, Louis Cole’s drumming aesthetics echo with the rest of the band over a frantic tempo. It isn’t a surprising collaboration considering they share overlapping scenes, but the track is the highlight of the album.
If tension exists in some of the musicality, relaxation does too, most embodied through the piece “Love is a Beautiful Thing,” signed by Katzman. The American singer, Monica Martin, who remains little known to the general public, engages in a duet with Katzman on the track, and it works perfectly.
Listeners will recognize the group’s sound thanks to Joe Dart’s wildly groovy basslines, the percussive rhythms of Theo Katzman and Jack Stratton and the clear and funky keyboards of Woody Goss and Jack Stratton. But it is also through their collaborations that Vulfpeck have been able to renew and expand their audience.
A group that looks like a collective
Jack Stratton, founding member, multi-instrumentalist and the band’s producer, sums up their primary goal: “I just wanted us to be a really great rhythm section, and its the same for the others.” The base they form with this hyper-developed rhythm section, designed for accompaniment with well-anchored grooves, has invited collaborations since their debut, both on recordings and on stage, attracting artists such as Bernard Purdie, Bootsy Collins and Prince’s former drummer Michael Bland.
Guitarist Cory Wong, singer Antwaun Stanley and pianist-singer-saxophonist Joey Dosik also feature, forming what feels like a larger group with their contributions. Back in March 2018, as if to prove their openness, two members of Vulfpeck (Joe Dart and Cory Wong), along with Mark Lettieri (Snarky Puppy guitarist) and the drummer Nate Smith, formed The Fearless Flyers for an EP under their label, Vulf Records.
The Vulfpeck phenomenon
Originally a hometown band from high school in Michigan, they began in 2011 with Jack Stratton, Joe Dart, Woody Goss and Theo Katzman as members. But it was in 2014 that Vulfpeck’s audacity would make them stand out. The band posted an album on Spotify with ten silent, thirty-second tracks, Sleepify, intended to be listened to on a loop by fans as they slept. The goal was to maximize play-counts and raise funds for their first American tour. 20,000 dollars later, the phenomenon was launched.
Since then, at the rate of one album per year, Vulfpeck is gradually becoming a reference point in the current jazz-funk scene, following in the footsteps of the Funk Brothers, M.F.S.B. (Mother Father Sister Brother, an American band active in the 70s) and the Muscle Shoals community.
Every musician in the group is a composer in their own right. Each occupies a place without anyone dominating, and that is what makes them so charming. Though they have a general accessibility, their community of fans are more like a group of enthusiasts and musicians, having followed them since their debut. Proof of this can be found during their concerts, where the audience sings the band’s themes back to them like a chorus of musicians. Having recently visited Paris for two sold-out concerts, the Vulfpeck phenomenon continues to grow and surprise us.
It is also thanks to a clever and deceptively sophisticated communication strategy that the Vulfpeck phenomenon has become what it is today. Videos are posted frequently on their Youtube channel and their social networks remain constantly active, reinforcing their community which seems to keep expanding. Often using small studios with quality graphics, recording methods and old school, minimalist colors, the group’s output is easily identifiable. They surf modern communication channels rather than traditional media, forging themselves a distinct a true identity.
Vulfpeck – Hill Climber (Vulf Records)