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.

Time Fades Away – Neil Young

Classic Rock

In Neil Young’s entire massive library of music there may be no album with more history and significance behind it than 1973’s Time Fades Away; an album that many people, including some of Young’s fans, may have never even heard of. What we have here is a sometimes dark, always sincere album recorded during a time of great turmoil for Neil Young. It is an album that is hard to even analyze sometimes given the disparity of feelings about the record between Neil and his audience. Do you want to talk about an obscure piece of rock n’ roll history? Let’s talk Time Fades Away.

Time Fades Away was Neil Young’s first ever live album that was recorded during his massive 1973 tour that included somewhere in excess of 60 shows over three months.  The Stray Gators served as his backup during this tour in place of Crazy Horse. The album is one of the three albums that are included in Neil’s “ditch trilogy” which also includes Tonight’s The Night and On The Beach and is considered, in addition to the other two, one of the most significant Neil Young albums ever made.

While the album was originally released in 1973 it was never reissued onto CD due to Neil’s feelings towards in and probably more importantly towards the unpleasant experience of that 1973 tour. This was the very same tour that followed the death of Crazy Horse guitarist and Neil’s friend Danny Whitten. He ended up overdosing on valium the very night after Neil fired him from the tour due to his instability. God only knows how deeply that affected Neil on this incredibly stressful tour.

In addition to the passing of Danny there was turmoil among the band members during the tour that resulted from money disputes and many other various disagreements and incidents. The result of this overwhelming negative experience for Neil was the shunning of Time Fades Away; I believe he even went as far as to call it his worst album ever at some point. In contrast to Neil’s feelings towards the album I can tell you that the critics and more importantly his die-hard fans cherish it as one of the best and most overlooked Neil Young albums of all time.

Time Fades Away is a truly classic rock n’ roll album. Through the eight songs on the album we get a little of every style of Neil Young. From the upbeat rockabilly swing of Time Fades Away to the classic hard rock sound of Last Dance this is an awesome showcase of original Neil Young live tracks. Love In Mind is a highlight here and features Neil solo on piano. The song is short, intimate and you can just picture Neil sitting up on the stage playing piano under the spotlight. Don’t Be Denied is a steel guitar laced country rock jam that tells a short story of Neil’s youth to his success as a musician and the business of it all. “Well, all that glitters isn’t gold, I know you’ve heard that story told, and I’m a pauper in a naked disguise, a millionaire through a business man’s eyes, oh friend of mine, don’t be denied.”

There may be only eight songs on this album but there is no bullshit here. Each and every song is a gem. There exists way too much history and lore behind this album to talk about in a few short paragraphs but I encourage all who are interested to go read about it and more importantly to listen to it! The good news for all of us is that while this album may have fallen into the abyss for a period of time it has since been released in digital format for all to enjoy. Time Fades Away is a highly regarded anomaly among Neil Young fans and critics. While Neil himself may have mixed feelings about the album and tour I hope that he can find solace in the fact that Time Fades Away is still, to this day, bringing a lot of joy and entertainment to his fans all over the world.

See you next week.

DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

Rap

Damn… I could probably end my review right there. I actually thought about doing that. The fact is that this album is just too damn good to not write about. What we have here is one of the best rap albums of our time. It’s crazy that I can say that after a mere five days post-release. The question remains, can we really expect anything less from Kendrick Lamar nowadays?

Just like his past releases Kendrick conveys many powerful messages throughout this record. Through the 14 tracks on the album Kendrick touches on concepts including self-respect, love, bigotry, religion, faith, politics, power, evil, weakness and the list goes on. As per usual he does so in an incredibly impactful way. Many songs on this album are more profound than they appear on the surface.

There is also a ton of subtext here. Already the internet is crawling with people hypostasizing and theorizing over hidden meanings and messages. There was even a crazy popular theory involving Kendrick, Jesus, and the surprise release of a second album on Easter Sunday. Yea…

The production on this album is second to none. The beats are rich and original while still maintaining a raw and authentic sound. It’s impossible not to get hyped up when listing to the hard and aggressive (but yet so humbling!) track HUMBLE.; it’s hard to resist the laid-back and tranquil rhythm to YAH.; and if the euphoric beat for LOVE. doesn’t put you in a good place I don’t know what will. The quality of DAMN.’s production is a credit to its long list of talent on that end. The album boasts a robust production crew including Top Dawg, The Alchemist, 9th Wonder, Mike Will Made It, the mysterious Bēkon and many more. The album is absolutely littered with talent none more important than Kendrick himself.

The first track BLOOD. starts off with a skit featuring Kendrick narrating his own death at the hands of a blind women he is trying to assist. The skit is laced with a spaghetti western-esque melody and successfully sets the tone for the album while introducing some core themes. The track and its subsequent song DNA. both feature audio clips from Fox News anchors (including Geraldo Rivera) bluntly criticizing some of Kendrick Lamar’s past lyrics which targeted police brutality towards African Americans. The song DNA. is a strong rebuttal to these personal attacks. In it Kendrick reaffirms who he is, where he comes from, and scorns those who would criticize him, especially those from outside his community.

In ELEMENT. Kendrick highlights the core theme of the album: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper in the game. It’s not as much a boastful song as it is an affirmation of his dedication to rap. Lyrics include “I’m willin’ to die for this shit, I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit, put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit.” This is one of my favorite songs on the album both lyrically and melodically and the chorus is absolutely amazing.

In PRIDE. Kendrick touches on his own imperfections and the relationship between his overwhelming success and his moral compass. “See, in a perfect world, I’ll choose faith over riches, I’ll choose work over bitches, I’ll make schools out of prison, I’ll take all the religions and put ’em all in one service, Just to tell ’em we ain’t shit, but he’s been perfect, world.”

HUMBLE. was everyone’s first glimpse of this album and a mighty one at that. Kendrick takes shots at some of his competition and further reaffirms his place at the table. Bitch sit down, be humble! LUST. is another one of my favorites here. In it Kendrick touches on the day to day life of a famous rapper. It’s filled with lustful desires, anxiety, and repetition. The song is deep, introspective, engaging and the melody is enticing.

In XXX. Kendrick struggles with his own integrity along with that of America’s. The song compares Kendrick’s own principles to America’s as a whole. The lyrics on this track are truly some of the best on the record. The song also features the rock group U2 to many peoples initial surprise but this makes a lot of sense given the politically charged nature of the song and U2’s history of highlighting social themes in their own music.

The last song I would like to discuss is the finale of the album DUCKWORTH. Man this song is crazy. This song tells the real life story of how Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith (the chief exec of TDE) almost killed Kendrick’s own father years before they would ever meet. The story highlights how one coincidental mistake almost changed history and would have prevented TDE from forming and Kendrick from ever rapping. I love how Kendrick wraps this album up through the telling of such an incredible story.

I could keep writing about this album if I wanted to. Seriously, I could write about every damn song. The only reason I won’t is because I have to go listen to the album again. Trust me when I say that if you are a fan of rap in any shape or form this album will blow you away. It’s really just the level of quality we have come to expect from Kendrick Lamar. I already can’t wait to see what comes next.

See you next week.

 

 

The Phosphorescent Blues – Punch Brothers

Progressive Bluegrass

This week I would like to highlight one of the most recent additions to my list of favorite albums. This band also happens to include of my most respected musicians of all time Chris Thile. The Phosphorescent Blues by Punch Brothers is an amazing achievement in the modern Progressive Bluegrass scene and should not be overlooked. Seriously, I am not exaggerating.

I would assume that most people reading this right now are thinking what the hell is progressive bluegrass? Well, the answer is that there is no real set-in-stone definition. The best way to describe progressive bluegrass is as a modern subgroup or subgenre of traditional bluegrass music that has the liberty of adding instruments and incorporating styles that traditional bluegrass would not. Please don’t be intimidated by the bluegrass designation; many people who are fans of folk or rock music will find this music easy to approach.

Most of you who are familiar with the traditional bluegrass format would expect to see an acoustic banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle (violin), upright bass, and sometimes a dobro. What is interesting about modern variations of bluegrass music is that you will often hear electric instruments, drums, and incorporated style elements of folk and rock music. This allows the musicians a little more creative freedom and flexibility. In addition to Punch Brothers you may already know some other progressive bluegrass groups such as Greensky Bluegrass, Trampled by Turtles, and Yonder Mountain Sting Band to name a few.

Now that the lecture is over I will try and get back on topic! The Phosphorescent Blues is an admirably complex and beautiful addition to the modern bluegrass catalog. It is easy to hear that each musician in Punch Brothers is a master of their respective instruments. This is certainly true of Chris Thile who is known as one of the best (many feel the best) mandolin players alive (see Chris Thile Plays Bach: Sonata No, 1 in G Minor on Youtube). As an amateur mandolin player I not only have a tremendous amount of respect for his approach to the mandolin but also his success in bringing notoriety to the instrument in modern times. Chris also plays the part of lead vocals and does so very well.

I feel like I have already said a lot so I will avoid a track-by-track here. This being said I encourage you to give this album a shot. As I mentioned, this album is one of my current favorites and may become one of yours as well. Some of my favorite tracks include: My Oh My, Julep, Magnet, Little Lights, and the ten minute and twenty three second opener Familiarity. I should also note that the video that I posted for My Oh My (my favorite song off the album) is not the record version but instead the version with Chris Thile from The Late Show. I feel that it is an excellent live rendition. I hope you enjoy it.

See you next week.