As you wander into the landscape of Mr Finish Line, the new release from Vulfpeck, you notice immediately that all the corners are rounded, evidence that all of it was printed by the Vulf compressor. When your eyes adjust to the shades and tones, you can see that everything, from the park benches to the neighbourhood dogs, has actually been knurled in minute detail—no doubt by Vulfmon himself, for this entire place was built by him. It feels good to be back in Vulfland, or, if you’ve not been here before, you’ll be wondering which laws of evolution have been governing this ‘half-Jewish post-geographic’ haven of funk.
In the capital city, Hero Town, the buildings and streets crisscross haltingly and you see dead-ends everywhere. But, as you walk further, you see residents pulling into the dead-ends and finding their homes there: the design is far more caringly architected than you’d thought. Foreign cities seem clumsy by comparison. Your sneakers come off the pavement with a pleasing sticker-peel sound, saxo-birds sing from Fender trees, a young man playing a guitar winks at you. Holy shit, that’s Theo Katzman.
The city is shaded through with hues recognisable from earlier trips you’ve taken to villages like The Speedwalker and Fugue State. Obviously Vulfmon hasn’t come an honest distance from those places, but this is a new citadel of his printing: the edges are a little finer, with woodwind inlays mixed into the buildings like you’ve never seen before. Jack Stratton will have been the urban planner on that, you muse. Are those Cory-Wong-drops falling from the sky? Vulfmon is maturing—you wonder if he isn’t growing inward, rather than outward.
Taking off into the air, you leave the city and fly across Mr Finish Line’s minimalist countryside. You lift into wingbeat with the flock, Birds of a Feather, who arrange themselves into tiny, round drumbeats, as much behind you as in front. You feel hundreds more than you can see, and an exhaling breath of wind runs underneath you, creating lift by the Antwaun Stanley principle, which was discovered in 2013.
Landing in a garden, you see a TV screen nestled in the flowers and weeds. When it flickers on you realise that Vulfmon is tapping into telewaves coming from outside the country, shows written by Ryan Lerman and Joey Dosik, called Baby I Don’t Know Oh Oh and Running Away, respectively. It testifies to the strength of Vulfland, to the tubes and vines from this TV, that these foreign shows ring of those unmistakably local colours. It is particularly enjoyable how this mixture of the borrowed and the homegrown throws Vulfmon’s maturity into fell relief.
As you sit in the soil watching the TV, wolves appear. You recognise this Vulf Pack and their movements: you saw them playing the same game of lowball in the Rango fields which you visited way back in 2011. The very personality of Vulfmon is in their lupine repartee, and that’s precisely what you came for. You run through the fields, through a sweet cloud of Christine Hucal crystals, the same from Back Pocket and Animal Spirits. This uncaged energy, the feeling of running, of sweet exertion, is meant to be the soul of this region—you know this because the eponymous Mr Finish Line himself, running just beside you, mentions it casually. He peels off for his Tee Time with Woody Goss, like you knew he would. After that he’s off to see his Grandma. You’re here for the nostalgia, and it’s been delivered.
Getting towards the borders of the region, you find something else. Commuters, in Business Casual, drinking rhythmic cocktails. Some of them got the train in from Hero Town, but others have come from across the border—from their accents they could be from the pop-metropolis or the radio slums. You like it, but it’s clear why these people aren’t meeting in the capital city.
Further along the border is a large pond swimming with hooks. Bootsy Collins, visiting professor from Funk University, is at the water’s edge talking to Joe Dart. Schools of hooks are shifting underwater while someone is skipping tones across the pond surface, creating a hip-hop of ripples. A sign reads Captain Hook. The whole thing is unexpected, but you’re intensely glad Vulfmon came this way, even if it’s all a bit silly.
Your visit is complete. Ultimately, you might decide, Mr Finish Line is exacting: it’s strategically empty, if not deceptively full, like all of Vulfmon’s work. He clearly demands consistency from his prolificacy, and travellers will welcome this. What’s matured is the diversity of sounds that grow in the soil here, rather than being set down like lawn ornaments: Dosik’s saxophone has really taken root, for example, and the vocals are like local flora. Vulfmon had already been coming this direction with 2015’s Thrill of the Arts and 2016’s The Beautiful Game, but if you fly from 2011’s Mit Peck directly here you’ll pass from gorgeously weedy jazz to tended funk… though it’s hardly a long journey.