Since their formation in 2011 here in Ann Arbor when Jack Stratton, Theo Katzman, Woody Goss, and Joe Dart were all students at the University of Michigan, Vulfpeck has been captivating both local and nationwide listeners with their unique brand of funk music. The band has released an EP each year, starting with Mit Peck, then Vollmilch, My First Car, and finally Fugue State. However, Thrill of the Arts, which was released digitally on October 9th and is set to come out in physical form on November 20th, is their debut full-length album.
In many ways, this album recalls themes from past EPs and also builds on Vulfpeck’s particular style of groovy funk that has made them so popular. This album features many guest musicians in the form of local as well as more well-known artists, with more of an emphasis on vocals than has been seen in past releases. The track list starts off with “Welcome to Vulf Records,” a reference to their own record label and a fitting introduction to the rest of the album. This track features Joey Dosik and starts off with an upbeat keyboard run before Joe Dart joins in with the bass line and a guitar riff comes in overtop. Things slow down when Dosik comes in with an alto saxophone solo, pulling an excerpt from “Outro,” a track on Vulfpeck’s 2012 EP Vollmilch. At only two minutes and 43 seconds, this song serves as an overture and introduction not only to the rest of the album, but also to the band itself as they solidify their signature style.
The next song on the album, “Back Pocket,” features Christine Hucal and Mark Dover, and was released as a single earlier this year. This track follows a more traditional framework, with a catchy melody and breathy vocals from Hucal and Katzman. The addition of Dover on the clarinet adds a unique sound and contributes to the light and airy quality of the song.
Other highlights of the album include “Game Winner,” a cover of Joey Dosik’s slow and soulful ballad. This track provides a break in the middle of the album from the otherwise fast-paced marathon of funk that is Thrill of the Arts. “Christmas in L.A.,” which now features vocals from David T. Walker and Theo Katzman after having been released as an instrumental on Fugue State, is a catchy tune that you’ll want to play all year, regardless of the holiday-themed lyrics. The album comes to a close with “Smile Meditation,” an instrumental track that leads seamlessly into “Guided Smile Meditation.” This final track features Mushy Krongold, Jack Stratton’s alter-ego, talking over ambient sounds in a sort of stream of consciousness contemplation. The track ends as the final notes start to fade and a series of four chimes comes in before silence takes over.
This latest installment from Vulfpeck lives up to the standards that have come to be expected of this band, and Thrill of the Arts pulls from past EPs to create a strong album that serves to solidify the band’s signature sound. With instrumental tracks that showcase the members’ exceptional musical talents as well as collaborations and features that allow for more melodic pieces, this album takes everything listeners love about Vulfpeck and presents it in a new way, setting this group up for success as they continue to establish their presence in both the local and nationwide music scenes.