Stephen Bruner the bassist, songwriter, and singer better known as Thundercat, released his third full studio album, entitled Drunk, under the independent label, Brainfeeder, on February 24. Collaborators on the album include Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, and Pharrell, with Flying Lotus (Brainfeeder’s founder) producing the bulk of the 23-track LP.
Thundercat’s mainstream recognition came after his contribution to Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly album for which he won a Grammy in 2016. More accredited for his collaborative efforts rather than his solo projects, Thundercat uses Drunk as an opportunity to showcase his eccentric personality.
Typically favouring a six-stringed bass to span a multi-genre repertoire, this LP is no exception covering jazz, jazz-fusion, R&B, soul and electronic funk. With tracks falling into genre clusters that could almost be considered mini EPs within the jam-packed project, Thundercat blesses us with a collective of musical trinkets bound together by quirky meows.
Spanning several decades of musical influences, Thundercat presents Drunk in a modern and introspective way, allowing him to lyrically self deprecate in a light-hearted and endearing fashion. The songwriter encapsulates sporadic storytelling in a puff-puff-pass kind of way as opposed to a mechanical narrative, allowing us to accompany him on his drunken escapade of an LP journey.
The first three tracks: “Rabbot Ho” [0:00], “Captain Stupido” [0:39] and “Uh Huh” [2:20], form an introductory trilogy. “Rabbot Ho” includes Thundercat’s characteristic falsetto singing with a stare-out-of-my-window as it rains vibe. Melancholically singing “let’s go hard, get drunk” the opening track features a hint of vocal vibrato.
The peculiar intervals in “Captain Stupido” put us in a trance-like state as we listen to equally peculiar lyrics such as, “Comb your beard…Brush your teeth…Beat your meat…Go to sleep…Jesus take the wheel”. As if that stellar pep talk weren’t enough to get you in the mood for a night out, the recurring phrases of “I feel weird” followed by a defeatist “still feel weird” will surely do the trick.
These recurring phrases are characterised by two melodically dissonant motifs inclusive of semitone jumps and perfect fourth intervals giving a more than unique sound. The changes in time signature/groove in “Captain Stupido” give a preparatory nod to the hectic nature of the following track.
“Uh Huh” is perhaps the most jazz aligned track off the LP hosting a conflict of polyphony. Piano and strings are in constant battle throughout, and against the old-school hip-hop/funk beat, makes for an animated rumble. Our ears become slaves to the meticulous bassline that tells us an erratic story via dynamic fluctuations and experimental melodies – what feels like a group jam session in your basement during a mildly paranoiac high.
The witty lyricism in “Bus In These Streets” [4:36] pokes fun at our dependency on technology, with Thundercat reminding us that “from the minute [he] wake[s] up [he is] staring at the screen…technology is the key to it all…where would we be if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts…it’s okay to disconnect sometimes”.
With all of this being projected via chirpy mallsoft vibes and the music itself being far from riveting, maybe it is fulfilling its satirical purpose.
Track five of the LP is part two of “Tron Song”, colloquially known as “A Fan’s Mail”. Boasting falsetto by default, Thundercat only sings for part of this song, choosing to meow for the remainder. Against muffled/crackling drums and guitar psychoacoustics, his vocals manage to convince us that “everybody wants to be a cat…it’s cool to be a cat”.
Tracks six through to eight all flow nicely from each other creating the impression that they are a mini EP/track set within the lengthy LP. They include “Lava Lamp” [9:40], “Jethro” [12:38], and “Day & Night” [14:13].
Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins feature on “Show You The Way” [14:50]. Kenny “King of the Movie Soundtrack” Loggins provides a Bee Gees quality to his falsetto – miles away from Thundercat’s ironically feline pipes. We hear “it’s your boy, Thundercat” sung in a Mike McCary bass voice as if about to begin a spoken interlude on a Boyz II Men track, and this suave theme continues when McDonald contributes smooth R&B vocals.
“Walk On By” is arguably one of the weaker tracks on the LP and almost felt as if Kendrick was invited to salvage the sci-fi-boyband-meets-camp-alien production.
This track (ten) through to track fourteen would form an internal EP of progressive jazz-fusion interspersed with vaporwave vibes (particularly on “Tokyo”) and electronic sass throughout. The set is inclusive of “Walk On By” [18:24], “Blackkk” [21:44], “Tokyo” [23:45], “Jameel’s Space Ride” [26:09], and “Friend Zone” [27:18] which was produced by Charles E Dickerson, the electronic producer better known as Mono/Poly.
Released July of 2015, “Them Changes” [30:30] was supposed to give listeners a taster of what was to come for the 2017 LP, but the jazz fusion project with meows galore proved to be harder to predetermine. The track was part of the mini album, The Beyond/Where Giants Roam, that was released digitally on June 22 of 2016 via Brainfeeder – the prelude to Drunk.
Opening with a bass melody, “Where I’m Going”[33:40] has a more somber feel, especially after hearing the funky quirk of “Them Changes”. Military style snare, syncopation, and an almost D&B/garage timbre create an unexpected authoritative sound.
Listeners are saluted by a four-to-the-floor bass with additional quaver hits between beat three and the end of beat four every two bars. The lyric “everything and nothing running around my head all at once” is the perfect musical slogan for the track.
What would seem like an unexpected R&B collaboration between Thundercat and Wiz Khalifa (at least for this particular project) actually works a treat for “Drink Dat” [35:49]. Khalifa’s stoner flow is full of syncopation against a stripped back production by Thundercat – one of only three tracks on the LP solely produced by him.
Synthesised drones featuring melodic disjunction create an extraterrestrial environment whilst Wiz befittingly raps about being high out of his mind.
Grouping the tracks “Inferno” [39:24], “I Am Crazy” [43:25], and “3AM” [43:51], would constitute the penultimate mini EP structure within Drunk. Classified under a generically ambiguous lounge music set that one would find in a give-away box in a dark corner of a record shop, these three tracks drag on a bit in an already prolonged LP.
The self-titled track, “Drunk” (ironically not released as a single), closes off the ‘lounge’ set by outlining the depressing parts of drinking that we gloss over when telling tales of a night out/in. You know, the cry-on-the-floor-over-an-ex segment of the night? No, you don’t recall? Not surprised, actually…you were pretty wrecked last night.
The track opens borderline acappella with accompaniment merely delineating chord progressions. The echo on Thundercat’s falsetto vocals provides a beautifully haunting quality similar to that of James Blake or Sampha, albeit on a much lesser scale.
Thundercat does not confine his lyricism to conventional norms, but gives his listeners the messy truth. With lyrics such as “squirrels and snakes keep me on my toes” and “so many feels, bro…el-oh-el I’m so over it”, all we can do is thank him for his honesty.
The lyrics move from erratic slang toward a darker existentialism, for example “nothing is real…drowning away all of the pain…sometimes you want to feel alive…I just can’t catch a break”. You and me both, Thundercat.
The penultimate track is “The Turn Down” [46:48] which features what is essentially Pharrell Williams using a vocoder to deliver a philosophical rant about love, peace, acceptance, and social tolerance of all humans. In case you missed it, the footnotes to his speech can be found on his Human Race shoe collection.
The album comes full circle with “DUI” (final track) using the same melody as “Rabbit Ho” (track one) with a change of lyrics inclusive of “one more glass to go/Where this ends we’ll never know”. Thundercat both taking a jab at our technological society for its repetitive trends and a reference to the musical loop that is Drunk.
The purpose of this album is to expose Thundercat as an artist and a human…something that comes across with beautiful success. He already knows he is an outstanding musician and does not require this LP to showcase his abilities – he can save the more complex tricks and licks for his contributions towards revitalising jazz and hip-hop through his songwriting and collaborations.
There is something endearing about Drunk. It is honest, raw, and quirky in ways that most people do not know how to handle. Thundercat is not “different” for the sake of being so, or out of fear of being construed as bland. Only he can pull off nearly two minutes of meowing without jeopardising his artistic credit, making listeners fall in love with him (and his idiosyncrasies) even more.
Make sure to support Thundercat by purchasing Drunk on any of the following: Ninja Tune, BANDCAMP, iTunes or Amazon. A four-piece vinyl boxset of the LP was also released on March 10 via Brainfeeder – the perfect gift for any cat-loving jazz-fusion fan.
Words by Olga Maher