It can be easy to believe that funk is past its prime. With artists like James Brown and Parliament Funkadelic firmly in the past, the genre has arguably fallen off in recent decades, but the funky flame is still alive and well if one knows where to look.
One of the most spirited bands carrying this torch is Vulfpeck. Being one of the pioneers in the contemporary funk scene since their 2011 debut, their sixth studio album, “Schvitz,” brilliantly showcases the playful side of funk. It combines groove and whimsy to create music that is, above all else, fun.
The album opens on “Sauna,” a light introduction that sets the tone nicely without giving too much away. This track is classic instrumental Vulfpeck, with each part fitting together snugly while retaining their own distinctive identities within the ensemble.
The form is dynamic, shifting seamlessly through varied sections to keep things interesting, but always prioritizing the rhythmic feel of the tune. As compelling as it is, “Sauna” isn’t among the highlights of the album, but it introduces it swimmingly.
It continues to “Earworm,” almost immediately bringing in the comical tone that Vulfpeck is known to employ. The lyrics are from the perspective of the titular earworm, who spends its time regurgitating catchy melodies like commercial jingles.
The rhythmic pattern behind the lyrics is repetitive, but they vary the instrumentation enough that it doesn’t become droning. It’s a fun tune, and it’s obvious to the listener that the band is having fun too.; Iit becomes tough to listen to without cracking a smile.
Next comes “New Guru,” which introduces the vocal talents of Antwaun Stanley. His distinctive voice has graced many a Vulfpeck tune and has become an integral part of the band’s instrumentation. “New Guru” is an excellent example of why that is.
Stanley drives the energy effortlessly through the tune, leading the band through the form and keeping spirits high with his lively performance. At one point, he calls the band into an upward key change, then four bars later changes his mind: “My bad, bring that down.” Although undoubtedly planned, this moment brings an element of spontaneity and unexpectedness that makes the song that much more fun.
The band borrows from songwriter Bob Dylan on “Serve Somebody,” a cover of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” They take a groovier approach to the tune, as well as upping the tempo and adding lots of countermelodies to the simple, bluesy harmony.
Stanley’s vocal matches the increased energy while calling back to Dylan’s muted tenor. Vulfpeck’s covers consistently impress in adapting written work to their style, and this is no different, striking a balance between their own eclecticism and Dylan’s restraint.
Another cover appears two tracks later with “What Did You Mean by Love?” This time they recontextualize the work of one of their own members, Theo Katzman, who originally published the song on his 2020 release “Modern Johnny Sings: Songs in the Age of Vibe.”
The guitar has an interesting effect on this track wherein the sound fades in a moment after the string is plucked. This creates a warm, slightly-off-beat feeling that fits the song well during the verses, but when the guitar takes a solo, the effect sticks around.
This removes all semblance of clarity and rhythm from the solo, outright omitting notes that aren’t played long enough. It’s a confusing enough choice that if the effect was mistakenly left on during this part of the track, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Despite this flaw, Vulfpeck manages to put together another fun and fresh album in “Schvitz.” Combining pervasive groove with their characteristic lighthearted approach to music performance, the band provides what can only be described as good vibes. “Schvitz” is sure to leave a smile on your face and a rhythm in your body.