‘Mr. Finish Line’ album review
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
Vulfpeck, one of the most successful—yet tragically obscure—modern funk bands here on the West Coast, recently released their first dud of an album. Mr. Finish Line, released on November 17, starts strong with a cute pop-esque song designed to draw in the mainstream crowds, but the jazz meat of the album is sorely lacking. This is hard for me, a diehard Vulfpeck fan, to admit, but Mr. Finish Line is one of the most boring albums I’ve recently listened to.
The strength of Vulfpeck has always been in their cleanness. Coming straight from Michigan University, the band keeps their rhythms simple and their sounds separate, resulting in songs with unique and sophisticated interactions between bass, snare, piano, and brass. This new album takes that too far. Most of the songs are so clean, they’re bland—repetitive beats with little to no flair. It’s a surprising turn for such a creative and quirky group. Songs like “Vulf Pack,” “Hero Town,” and “Captain Hook” promised to be pure Vulf style but end up being almost monotonous and completely forgettable.
“Birds of a Feather, We Rock Together,” the first and probably best song on the album, shows that Vulfpeck still has the raw talent and refined skill for some seriously impressive work. That song, and a few reminders scattered throughout that bassist Joe Dart and vocalist Antwaun Stanley are some of the best musicians currently working in the genre, keep the album from being outright bad; Vulfpeck has a knack for picking up incredibly talented artists and fusing their styles. “Grandma” in particular shows off Stanley’s amazingly smooth voice and strong sense of humour, even though most of the rest of the song is pretty basic.
Their oddball comedy is another thing that separates Vulfpeck from the crowd—their YouTube channel is a mix of simple but stylish music videos and recipes for salads set to an improv bass-and-vocals routine by Dart and Stanley. This attitude finds its way into their songs, making most of their albums quirky and unexpectedly hilarious. Mr. Finish Line is also lacking here. “Grandma” definitely has some golden lines, but everything else feels so extremely by-the-books and uncreative.
All in all, Mr. Finish Line is unsatisfying. It lacks the zest and ambition that made previous albums stand out, especially Vollmich, and it doesn’t compensate with enough fancy piano work or bass solos. Despite this setback, fans shouldn’t be worried about whether Vulfpeck’s funky golden age is over. Their music videos continue to delight and some of the songs in this lackluster album show that the band still has the raw talent for amazing things—they just need to do it again, with passion.