wait for the moment (stories)

I’ve been exposed to a fair amount of music school kids at this point, and the tools they’ve acquired through thousands of hours of struggle and practice and strain, while incredible, and frankly intimidating, are in themselves simply tools.  What’s done with those tools remains up to the individual, and there’s much room for misfiring, for competitive wankery, for making discordant sounds, weird sounds, unsettling sounds, sounds designed for ears that have tired of obvious melody.  A whole huge generation of kids have now gone and gotten trained and appeared on the internet with their new tools, and while the output of that much training is always impressive, at best I usually find it interesting.  Very rarely do I find the Louis Coles or the Hiaitus Kaiyotes of the world moving.

This cover though, of my first and still favorite Vulfpeck song, is weaponized music school.  Arranged by Ryan Lerman (the guitarist hiding behind her right shoulder) the alterations to the original are all excellent, unobtrusive choices:  those two guitars, the close mic on the piano that catches the pedals, the little chromatic walk downs, and of course her VOICE!  Her fucking CONTROL!  Everything here is so carefully cultivated, the arrangement pays such homage to the original, that despite being clinically, technically precise, they make it all feel relaxed — easy.  They’ve nailed the whole point of the song.  This.  This is why you go to music school.

birds of a feather

Vulfpeck could very easily have been promoted as an Antwaun Stanley vehicle, pitched as the background faces in his travelling band. That’s where the studio execs would say the money is, and honestly he’s that god damn good. Watch Jack’s face (he’s the one playing pancakes) after that little improvised vocal riff at 4:02. It’s perfect — Antwaun really is the truth. I’m sure there’s a conference room full of suits somewhere that has suggested he be the face, repeatedly, and as far as packaging for profit potential, well, they wouldn’t be wrong.

BUT, Vulfpeck is decidedly NOT just an Antwaun vehicle. Instead, he remains one of a number of continually-invited guests, and the stars of the show remain the four kids who created it at music school. And really, as composer and ringleader, Vulfpeck is Jack Stratton’s baby, despite being by far the least virtuosic of all the players. It’s about his compositions, and Joe’s bass, and Woody’s keys, and Theo’s vocals, guitar, and drums. Unlike so many of their contemporaries, this world-famous band’s sound and image are in no way the brainchild of a PR team. It’s the result of a bunch of music nerds in Ann Arbor who were studying music, then making music, just for the joy of it. The product is pure and sweet and potent: kids who have retained their smiles while attaining master-status skill in their art. Hell, just look at the people who want to play with them. Their giggling enthusiasm is infectious.

In this day and age of making art to make money to have power to make money to have money to make power to have power to make money, Vulfpeck is a magic portal into pure music nerd wet dreams. They’re already becoming a legend in the making in their own time. So many artists compromise the purity of their vision in an attempt to cultivate appeal, and there is nothing sadder than someone who has done that and still failed. If you compromise for the wrong reasons you’re lost, even if you win, because what you’ve won isn’t what you actually wanted.

What gives me heart as an artist in the venal wasteland that is our current corporate century is that selling yourself bald isn’t the only way to win. Once in while an artist makes a pile of money doing only and exactly what they wanted to do, and for Vulfpeck that’s sit around the basement and make music with their friends. That’s literally what all of their music videos look like. Everything they produce is handled with care, curated for maximum irreverent beauty, and executed with an auteur’s flourish. Even the comment sections on their videos are bright and warm and delightful. How refreshing is that? They knew who they were, and what they wanted, and now they are who they wanted to be.

“And I’m
Learning the hard way
To be true…”

outro

You thought three songs in one post was enough Vulfpeck?  No.  No, no, lord no.  They play like a live jazz band, setting a theme and then letting Mr. Dart and his magical funky bass wizard wand walk on it for a while, until eventually they all come back for a joyous musical reunion.  Then sometimes they add a special extra piece, like vocals, or a… well, you’ll see.  Goodness me.  They really are something.  I’ll close here with the immortal words of my new favorite Youtube commenter:

“Bass guitarist has the moves
of a rooster with plenty of food
at his feet, but he aint hungry,
just leaving it for his hen’s.
so tight.”

-Patrick Geaney, Youtube, March 2015

Yessir.

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