Stephen Bruner, alias Thundercat, has had quite the illustrious career over the last 15 years, playing with (and composing for) absolute fixtures of the music scene like Erykah Badu, Flying Lotus, Kimbra, Kendrick Lamar and Suicidal Tendencies, among many others. Between those commitments, he also released two full-length records and an EP under his own name/pseudonym. Drunk is the name of his new, third solo album, and it’s again characterized by Thundercat’s eclectic signature mix of funk, jazz, soul, r’n’b and electronica.
Down The ‘Rabbot Ho’
A rabbit hole is as good a starting point for a journey like this as any, I guess. “Rabbot Ho”, with its mere 39 seconds of runtime, serves as the formal (re-)introduction into the Thundercat cosmos. Much to my relief, it unveiled that the wobbly bass tone so inseparably associated with the man’s music remains unchanged, just like his silky-smooth falsetto vocals. “Captain Stupido” isn’t much longer (1:42), but the hilarious lyrics, combined with the groovy, bustling instrumental, still make it an early highlight on Drunk.
On his sophomore record Apocalypse, Thundercat dedicated a song to his beloved cat, Turbo Tron Over 9000 Baby Jesus Sally (no, I’m not making that up); said “Tron Song” now finds a sequel in “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)”. A steady beat and distinctly soul-influenced instrumentation back Bruner up, while he imitates a cat’s meowing before serenading some of the many reasons why being a cat would be absolutely amazing. Can’t argue with that! The instrumental, however, not only manages to make the song’s whimsical lyrical content appear fully normal (which, admittedly, would have been impressive enough in its own right), but also to lend a confusingly sensual feel to it.
Highway To The Danger Zone
Produced by Bruner himself, alongside with Flying Lotus, Mono/Poly and Sounwave, the album contains an impressive, albeit at times surprising, cast of featuring artists. Anyone who has listened to “Show You The Way”, the first single off of Drunk, can easily see what I’m getting at here. Upon seeing the name Kenny Loggins in the credits, I actually burst out in a short fit of laughter. Not because I question his artistic merit, far from it – it just seemed so unreal! Mr. “Danger Zone” himself on a Thundercat track? Well, why the f*ck not? He clearly hasn’t lost any of his mojo, as his verse is an absolute highlight of the album and fits the track’s stylish lounge-r’n’b vibe pretty well.
While mostly very short in runtime, the songs on Drunk are filled to the brim with witty quips, memes, pop cultural references and, at times, social commentary. Take for example “Bus In These Streets”, which deals with the de-mystification of human relationships and the decrease of people’s attention spans in times where the Internet becomes more and more interwoven with everyday life. Or, for the more light-hearted side of things, check out Thundercat’s full-on nerd-out in “Tokyo”, where he mentions blowing all his money on anime or playing pachinko.
‘Because I’m Over 9000’
“Them Changes” already appeared on 2015’s The Beyond /Where The Giants Roam EP, so a few among you should already be familiar with it. But it’s one of my favourite songs of his, and thus I couldn’t bring myself to not include it in this review. Funky, mostly unvarying drums and Thundercat’s lively bass are accompanied by a crisp piano, horns and various sound-effects. Lyrically speaking, this is one of the more openly personal cuts on the album, dealing with the sour end of a relationship and the sense of abandon- and resentment he feels because of it.
There are times when Drunk’s humor becomes a little too over the top for my tastes; same goes for the self-deprecating attitude Bruner displays in some of the songs. But by and large, those instances are thoroughly forgivable. The musicality on display here (from everyone involved with this project, I might add), is nothing short of overwhelming, with Thundercat of course taking center-stage in this ovation. Both as a composer and as a bassist, he’s constantly growing and evolving, while his quirky persona adds a welcome sense of levity to the mix. In addition to being one of the most prolific artists out there currently, he has now undoubtedly proven to be one of the very best ones with Drunk.
Notable Tracks: “Them Changes”; “Walk On By (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”; “Show You The Way”
FFO: Flying Lotus, Vulfpeck, Esperanza Spalding