Vulfpeck more seriously explore post-recording production in ‘The Beautiful Game’

Nov. 21, 2016, 12:40 a.m.

Just like their name’s near homophone, Vulfpeck plays as a wolfpack, as a tight cohesive unit whose only goal is to follow its alpha: the groove. “The Beautiful Game” is no different, inheriting the pithy funk of all its LP and EP predecessors. Before their LPs (silent and loud), Vulfpeck released 4 EPs every year beginning in 2011, 24 tracks more or less recorded “live” with minimal post-recording editing. With such a bold recording technique and such talented members, Vulfpeck and their guests introduced to the world a unique take on pop and funk.

The band’s founder Jack Stratton serves as one of the band’s drummers and keyboard players (and also an occasional meandering, stomping guitarist); however, one of his most important roles in the quartet is serving as the band’s producer and mixer. Starting with their first “talkie” studio album effort in “Thrill of the Arts,” listeners saw Vulfpeck moving into a more post-recording direction, and it did not disappoint. Tracks like “Rango II” were lifted with expertly crafted post-recording additions that led to an astounding crescendo of sound that simply could not be achieved with their original “live” recording style. “The Beautiful Game,” although struggling to follow a sonic concept like the previous EPs and “Thrill of the Arts,” still proves that Jack Stratton is improving his already impressive production chops past live-recording while also heightening the band’s instrumental cohesiveness and expertise.

  1. The Sweet Science

Oddly enough, this album starts out with a near two minute clarinet solo over muted keyboards. It sounds almost as if it were coming from a snake charmer, as if Vulfpeck is trying to get us into a trance before the album really starts. Save for two minutes, this track almost achieves its goal but overstays its short welcome and begins to leave us impatiently looking at our watch phone wondering when this track will lead into the real Vulf.

  1. Animal Spirits

Immediately when that first piano riff introduces the track, we know this song will have the classic energy pop that we’ve become accustomed to since guitarist and drummer Theo Katzman’s vocal debut on “Thrill of the Arts.” As Vulfpeck ascends festival posters, “Animal Spirits” will become a concert earworm just as their popular “Back Pocket” has.

  1. Dean Town

Exciting as a single and a standout on the album, if listeners ever get tired of the new, produced Vulf, “Dean Town” returns to the old-school “Mit Peck”-era Vulfpeck as one of the few mostly live-recorded songs on the record. Without question, Joe Dart drives this track forward with his virtuoso Fender bass skill, but an unsung hero on this track is keyboardist Woody Goss’s ambient keyboard accompaniment, which Stratton has run from one ear to another.

  1. Conscious Club

The instrumental version of this track on “Thrill of the Arts” easily became a fan favorite (and a Joe Dart favorite) as it perfectly displayed each member’s instrumental ability, so when the track list revealed that the band was releasing a vocal version, it seemed as though Vulfpeck would yet again be able to add another equally weighted “instrument” to the mix. But while “Conscious Club” features strong non-speaking vocals from Laura Mace and added instrumentation, it unfortunately suffers from audio saturation and overkill. While Jack Stratton’s spoken word in the middle of the song is bearable, his incessant vocal samples spun in the middle of the verses (featuring eye-rolling chipmunk vocals) and the conversation at the beginning (with a particularly Dora-esque speaker) make this track something that I never thought Vulfpeck was capable of musically allowing, cringe.

  1. El Chepe

Where “Conscious Club” suffered from too much, “El Chepe” almost suffers from too little. Starting with a sample of a moving train, this track at best serves as an uneventful yet smooth ride to the second half of the album, conducted along by impressive bluesy piano riffs from keyboardist Woody Goss and a softened rhythm section to support them.

  1. 1 for 1, DiMaggio

We finally hear from Antwaun Stanley, Vulfpeck’s original and most frequented guest vocalist. It inherits the energy and high velocity funk of “Animal Spirits,” but this track has a little more. While it doesn’t fully showcase Antwaun Stanley’s impeccable voice, this track is just fun; the added quips and short conversations in the middle, unlike the speakers in “Conscious Club,” serve to effectively display the quirky, lovable side of Vulfpeck, often seen in their live performances and music videos.

  1. Daddy, He Got a Tesla

Featuring Jamire Williams’ scattering, infectious drumming, Pegasus Warning’s oddly placed vocals, and Joe Dart’s connective bassline, this track serves as the LP’s most experimental. Although it’s at times confusing to listen to and suffers from Goss’s weird piano runs, “Daddy, He Got a Tesla” is without a doubt an interesting, entertaining listen that at many times just flows. I’m excited to see Vulfpeck expand on this part of their sound.

  1. Margerie, My First Car

This track is a contradiction that shouldn’t work, with its spacey vocals from Christine Hucal laid on top of the tight funk instrumental from their 2013 track “My First Car.” Somehow, this track succeeds, and Jack Stratton is again able to prove his mixing prowess. By throwing in instrumental flourishes and altering the vocals and instrumentals just slightly enough, this song serves as a solid testament to Vulfpeck’s ability to recycle and revitalize their own music.

  1. Aunt Leslie

For the first time on a release, Vulfpeck double-dips with the Antwaun Stanley feature, and unlike “1 for 1, DiMaggio,” we see this song fully highlight Stanley’s best vocal attributes: tenderness and range. Here, we return to the Stanley’s EP days, the Stanley we saw on “Wait for the Moment” and “1612.” Although LP cuts like “Funky Duck” and this album’s “1 for 1, DiMaggio” were solid and fun, “Aunt Leslie” and tracks like it are Stanley and Vulfpeck at their best and comes closest to returning to the 70s funk era that Vulfpeck so dearly desire to emulate.

  1. Cory Wong

Expertly, Stratton is able to mix together a live and studio recording of this song, which features new guitar contributor Cory Wong. And just like on tracks like “Rango II,” at first we actually see the Vulfpeck quartet take somewhat of a backseat as they let another vetted instrumental maestro take center stage while they effectively offer a sensational rhythm for their guest to riff off of. However, as Theo stomps the Vulf-compressed kick and snare towards the end, we hear challengers from the original band: Joe Dart’s bass, Woody Goss’s keyboard and Jack Stratton’s rhythm guitar almost begin to musically battle with Wong to see who can have the funkiest run at the end of each measure. In the end, the listener is left with one of the strongest instrumentals on the album and a strong hankering to attend a live show to see if this groove is real.

As Vulfpeck continues to grow and thrust itself into the mainstream, they are able to amass new techniques to create their own take on the standalone sound of ‘70s backing rhythm bands. They mostly succeeded in their previous efforts, but “The Beautiful Game” uses the band’s skill and instinct to further explore new ways to more deeply entrench their sound behind their inspiration while still making their sound undeniably Vulfpeck. Here we hear Vulfpeck, more specifically Jack Stratton, comprehensively explore post-production. We hear more vocal tracks, thanks to the efforts of Vulfpeck’s own Theo Katzman and guests Antwaun Stanley, Christine Hucal, Laura Mace, and Pegasus Warning. We hear an increasingly tighter quartet out of Vulfpeck. “The Beautiful Game” offers a 10-point argument for a new pivot in Vulf’s sound, and for the most part, it succeeds.


Contact Dylan Grosz at dgrosz ‘at’

Dylan is a senior majoring in Symbolic Systems-AI and minoring in Economics. He very much enjoys playing guitar, listening to music, and reading FiveThirtyEight. As a Senior Data Team Writer for The Stanford Daily, Dylan hopes to offer his data-driven approach to journalism as a vessel for others to navigate the vast, stormy seas of society. He will also usually do so in an overly dramatic metaphor.

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