STAFF PICK: The Beautiful Game by Vulfpeck
When listening to a Vulfpeck album, it is this reviewer’s common practice to omit the desire for any semblance of cohesiveness. I have always found it useful to not view their albums traditionally, as this practice typically yields disappointing results. This, of course, is for the sake of the masterful artistry and musicianship contained therein. Vulfpeck is a funk group comprised of formally educated musicians; this fact is never understated within their music. From the band’s conception, its purpose has been to recreate the era of sound associated with 1960s session musicians (Albeit with a German twist, hence the name). To this end, they often succeed gloriously: Their playing techniques are precise, unique, and structurally compelling. However, while their records always display incredible production quality, they are also trademarked by thematic uncertainty. In a few words, they’re all over the place. Instrumental compositions are juxtaposed haphazardly alongside pop-soul vocal tracks, giving their records an unfinished feeling. This aloofness is often rather easy to forgive, as a certain redemptive charm permeates the open space of their compositions.
On The Beautiful Game, however, I find it much harder to forgive. More than ever, the tracks here feel awkwardly assembled, leaving the prevailing impression that they intended nothing more than to create a collection of songs. This is not to suggest that nothing on The Beautiful Game is memorable, as the opposite is true. “Animal Spirits,” although almost excessively poppy, works wonderfully, calling to mind the incredibly catchy “Back Pocket” from their last record, Thrill of the Arts. Lead single “Dean Town” is the obvious highlight, as it marvelously highlights the bandmembers’ musical talents, combining the aforementioned with simultaneously clear and dreamy production (I found myself yearning for an album full of Dean Towns). Songs like “El Chepe” and album closer “Cory Wong” further demonstrate these production chops. “Aunt Leslie” is a great example of Vulfpeck's ability to convey a meaningful message with a powerfully captivating voice. Unfortunately, “1 for 1, DiMaggio” makes these efforts seem a jest.
One of the most interesting songs on the record is “Margery, My First Car,” in which the record’s shining moments in spacey production once again prevail. However, this also seems a strange addition, as it utilizes their 2013 instrumental track “My First Car.” Ultimately, though, the album is bogged down chiefly by the band’s trivial indulgences (see: Conscious Club). These lighthearted quirks are to be expected on a Vulfpeck record, but it leaves the listener with the feeling that Vulfpeck isn’t sure if it should be prevailingly lighthearted or serious about their art. It seems more apparent on The Beautiful Game that they are unable to find a happy medium between the two. Despite the underwhelming aspects of the record, I still find that it is very easy to appreciate on many levels. While it does little to advance their sound, it was never really intended to; it find its seat comfortably among the rest of their discography.
Listen to The Beautiful Game below