Crack-Up – Fleet Foxes

Folk

It has been a long six years since Fleet Foxes released their last album Helplessness Blues. This was the last glance we had of Fleet Foxes before they decided to hang up their hats for more than half a decade. While many people initially questioned the future of Fleet Foxes, here we are in 2017 listening to a long-awaited follow-up to their beloved Helplessness Blues. For many it is a welcomed return of a band that occupies their own unique space in a crowded and convoluted era of music.

Six years is a long time. Think about your place in life six years ago; there’s a good chance that things were quite a bit different; I know they were for me. People change, lives change, people evolve and mature, and our external environment, the world in which we live in, changes to. Undoubtedly, the members of Fleet Foxes are no more immune to the effects of the passing of time then you or me. Evidence of this can be heard loud and clear on the latest Fleet Foxes effort Crack-Up.

On Crack-Up you will still hear much of what you love about the Fleet Foxes. The album is riddled with beautiful melodies and harmonies, complex instrumentals, and Pecknold’s vocal ability and range remain as good as ever. The folk-soul sound that Fleet Foxes fans have fallen in love with also remains stable. Long-time Fleet Foxes fans and newbies alike will find Crack-Up easily accessible thanks to the consistency of Pecknold and crew.

While Fleet Foxes manage to keep much of what people love about their original formula they not afraid to venture into new territory. In more than one aspect Crack-Up is a very different album then any of its predecessors. Crack-Up is much more of an emotional journey. Through its 55 minutes Crack-Up is tragic, enlightened, sad, beautiful, tranquil, expansive and so much more. This emotional progression reflects back upon the concept of the passing of time, a theme found often in folk music.

Crack-Up does some things very well. On Crack-Up Fleet Foxes master the concept of negative space. For each and every burst of music there exists a void. Much like Fleet Foxes own journey as a band. There are moments on Crack-Up that are tranquil, quiet, and serene and each one is filled with such beauty. This record is composed in such a way that makes it feel like one seamless piece of music rather than individual songs. Like a good painting, Crack-Up’s biggest accomplishment is in the way it forces you to interpret its various parts.

Crack-Up has its obvious stand-outs. The singles that were offered pre-release, Third of May/Odiagahara and Fool’s Errand, are good examples of this. These songs do well standing on their own two feet and are the closest thing to a White Winter Hymnal or Mykonos you will find on this album. They serve as pillars alongside the other songs that help bind the album together. –Naiads, Cassadies (one of my current favorites off this album) and Kept Woman do well to act as a harmonic bridge between the album’s opener and centerpiece. Crack-Up succeeds in making you feel that every song is in its right place. The album’s pace and flow are perfect. This is a credit to the album’s composition. It is constructed in a way that makes it feel whole.

So where do the Fleet Foxes go from here? Crack-Up feels very much like the beginning of a new chapter for Pecknold and crew and already Robin is talking about the future. It sounds like the band is going to be a lot more active in making music in the coming years. Fleet Foxes have shown through Crack-Up that they are not afraid of progression and we will undoubtedly continue to see this in their future efforts.

Robin Pecknold has been busy the past six years with his work at Columbia University, staying active on social media, and most certainly soul-searching. His spiritual progression can be heard on Crack-Up; his most intellectual album to date. What’s even more evident is that Robin and crew seem more comfortable than ever before. Fleet Foxes really feel at home on Crack-Up and I know that I can speak for many when I say that we are happy to have them back. In a sense, Crack-Up represents the passing of time better than any album I have heard in the past. It remains retrospective while ushering in a new era for Fleet Foxes and masterfully embraces the present. I don’t think this album would have the same effect if it was not for the six years of negative space.

See you next week.

Vollmilch EP – Vulfpeck

Funk

It is rare to hear real funk music anymore. Funk still exists but has either retreated into the shadows or blended with other genres to create something of an offshoot. Vulfpeck is relatively new to the music scene but is working in a large way to revive the funk of old; the music that is impossible not to dance to; the music that excites the soul and energizes the mind. Count me in.

This week I am reviewing Vulfpeck’s first effort: Vollmilch EP. While this album is absent of any vocals it largely succeeds in both replicating and perpetuating funk music. Vulfpeck is reminiscent of a true funk rhythm section and features a four-member lineup playing piano, Wurlitzer piano, synthesizer, drums, percussion, pocket piano, bass, saxophone, Moog and more. Vulfpeck’s strength lies in their ability to create modern and provoking grooves that never seem to lose their momentum.

Vulfpeck was conceived as a tribute to old-time rhythm sections from an era of funk, in the 1960’s and 1970’, that has long since passed. They decided to add a German persona to the band thus the name Vulfpeck. In a sense, Vulfpeck is attempting to revive interest in a lost era of funk for a new generation and it seems to be working. Vulfpeck has garnered a good deal of attention as of recent, especially through their live performances. This is what excites me most about Vulfpeck.

I feel that Vulfpeck’s music is ultimately destined for the stage. While I have yet to see them live, I have been hearing good things. I view Vulfpeck as a similar act to Galactic (the New Orleans Jazz-Funk Jam Band). While Galactic’s recorded music is fun to listen to, their strength lies in their ability to perform live. They tour constantly, hitting many music festivals in the summer, and play instrumentals behind a diverse cast of rotating guest singers. Their music is spectacular live, fun to dance to, and no two shows are the same. Vulfpeck seems to be on a similar path which is welcome in my book. We need more of these bands.

Vollmilch is an EP so it is a bit shorter than a full album. The record clocks in at 6 songs and 26 minutes. Vollmilch starts with the intro Outro. Yep… This track opens the album with a bang and was my first exposure to the group. You instantly get smacked in the face with an irresistible funky rhythm featuring piano, drums, bass, and sax. Next up is A Walk to Remember, a swingy-soulful tune with a funky-as-hell bass line.

Adrienne & Adrianne is track three on the album and identifies Vulfpeck’s ability to play their instruments in a way that highlights each of their individual skills while never overshadowing. You would think that the piano keys would fly off the piano on the chorus of this track. The album has three tracks to follow but I will let you explore those on your own.

Every track on Vulfpeck’s Vollmilch is a keeper. Vulfpeck’s first attempt at recorded music makes it clear that they have the kinetic ability to connect with one another. I believe this talent will be exemplified through their live performances. I should mention that this EP was released in 2012 and Vulfpeck has released a few full-length albums since then including the newly released The Beautiful Game. So go ahead and check them out. If you are a fan of funk in any shape or form Vulfpeck deserves a listen. You will be glad you did.

See you next week.

Run the Jewels 3 – Run the Jewels

Rap

Many rappers in the modern rap scene have found success rapping over intricately produced beats. Many find their own style or flow and engineer their beats to complement their vocal delivery. With Run the Jewels the rapping, lyrics, and flow are the beat. They become part of the rhythm just as much as the beats themselves. Every single song on Run the Jewels 3 flows with such precision it’s hard to find an imperfection anywhere on the album. With their third release, Killer Mike and El-P further affirm the fact that RTJ was meant to be. These two complement each other perfectly and when it works (which is quite often) it works very well.

RTJ3 is reminiscent of a simpler time in rap. A time when rappers rapped and MC’s MC’d. No fluff, no fucking autotune, no mindless unexciting beats; just down-to-it rapping. Yet, RTJ still manage to deliver a modern sounding album that sets itself apart from the rest of the crowd. RTJ is truly a unique act.

The beats and the rapping on RTJ3 are ferocious and exciting. If you are looking for a great workout album or a Friday night before hitting the town album this is it. The tempo changes from song to song but the merciless tone never subsides. The lyrics are also very entertaining. There is an abundance of aggressive, funny, light-hearted, and culturally relevant moments on RTJ3. I have had plenty of moments where I thought what the hell did he just say? It’s fun; trust me.

There is some really cool collaboration on RTJ3 as well. Danny Brown, Joi, BOOTS, and more can all be found here. I was really hoping they would have Big Boi back for another appearance after his guest spot on RTJ1, but hey I can’t ask for too much can I? All of the collaborations work well on their respective tracks and never do they overshadow RTJ themselves.

RTJ3 is a nice sized album with 14 songs at 51 minutes. I think the album feels longer than it actually is given the constant excitement. You won’t be drifting off listening to this album. What is additionally exciting is that this album, along with their past two releases, should make for a good live performance. I really look forward to seeing RTJ live on stage.

RTJ3 is yet another acclaimed effort by the supergroup duo. At this point it is hard to imagine the pair releasing anything less. The album is ferocious, exciting, and respectful to rap’s roots while still pushing the envelope. It is hard to find a bad song on the album. I can’t find one I don’t like. I don’t think it’s a great album for every mood or situation but when you are in the mood to have a good time or get hyped up this album is perfect. Also, feel free to blast it in your car with the windows down like I do; It’s one of those records.

See you next week.