When last we saw Vulfpeck, they were in—if you’ll pardon the pun—a really great groove. Last year’s Mr Finish Line was a dynamic record, and while it never broke their funky mold, it certainly did its best to stretch it. Full of echoed vocals and quiet spaces, it was the kind of record that took a moment or two to work its way into your heart, but once it did, the album felt like one you’d been listening to for years. That’s a huge part of what makes Vulfpeck great: they’re able to work with textures everyone already knows, using that safety to build something with a craftsman-like, lived in feeling.

Hill Climber, the band’s fourth (not counting the literally silent cash-grab Sleepify), is a shiny record, one that uses its 33 minutes to achieve one single purpose: to get you to dance. Sitting still for the whole thing is close to impossible, as even the weakest, most saccharine songs (see: the Mike Viola-featuring “For Survival”) inspiring a hearty head-bob. When looked at more closely, though, the glaring lack of strength in the first half becomes evident. After the perplexing opener “Half of the Way,” in which singer Theo Katzman implores his lover to only love him “half of the way,” he helps us explore other, equally-generic spaces. Producer Mike Viola joins in too, leading “For Survival,” but its “For survival!” refrain reaches “catchy” halfway through the song, leaving the rest of it to push it into “irritating” territory. Instrumental “Soft Parade” sounds like a micro jam session they used to pad for time, a feat on an album that’s already so short.

The album’s back half feels a little bit more self-assured. The one-two punch of “Lost My Treble Long Ago” and “Disco Ulysses” are the album’s only standouts, the former a great little jam that leaves you wanting more of its impeccably-crafted peaks and valleys, the latter a bass-centric ass-shaker that makes you wonder why the rest of the album didn’t end up like this. They actually maintain this momentum through “The Cup Stacker,” and almost make a clean break with a solid run of songs – before derailing it with their fumbled attempt at a victory lap, “It Gets Funkier IV,” which feels too close to self-parody. Even still, this half saves the record from being an altogether limp listen, even if “Funkier” feels a little limp.

The rub is that Hill Climber appears to only be a conduit for fun, funky songs, but even at their best, they are little more than that. None of these songs reach for anything of substance, and at best feel like empty calories. At worst, they feel like a waste of time. These musicians are talented, with Katzman’s pristine voice tying everything together neatly, but it’s just a little too neat. None of the songs demand your attention or stick around for very long after they’re gone, with even the best of Katzman’s vocal performances failing to make an impression. You could, after all, be spending this same time listening to Jamie Lidell’s Jim, the Whitest Boy Alive’s Rules or, hell, any Jamiroquai album instead, all of which are funk-tinged, but bold enough to really add their own flare to it.

Did the world truly need more white boy funk? Probably not, and while previous Vulfpeck releases may have given the impression that it did, Hill Climber gives the impression that this well has run dry. Vulfpeck, once a group of internet-savvy funk/soul nerds who funded a tour with the streaming royalties from a silent Spotify album, feel stripped of their voice, or anything worth digesting. Albums like Hill Climber are radically disappointing because, had the group put any of their own personality into the music, siding with “mood” over “matter,” it could have been more than just a pleasant album. But, as is, “pleasant” is really all it’s able to achieve.

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