Driving home from picking up my son at school the other day we were listening to Flying Lotus’ Until The Quiet Comes. I looked over to my son and said “What I love about this music is that it’s a perfect mix of woozy trip hop, groovy hip hop, and complex jazz chord structures.” My son said “So, what’s for dinner?” Anyways, I bring this up because I’m listening to the new album by Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, called Drunk. If you’re at all familiar with Flying Lotus then you will be familiar with Thundercat. His cleanly soulful vocals and fluid, prodigious bass lines are all over Flying Lotus’ albums. He’s also played with artists as diverse as Suicidal Tendencies, Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Childish Gambino, and too many more to list here. Drunk is Thundercat’s third album under his own name, and I think his best. While his previous records dabbled in soul, funk, jazz, and elements of hip hop throughout, Drunk comes together as a personal narrative about love and loneliness. It’s still all over the place, but there’s a focus here that makes the album that much more special.
Drunk plays like a creative mind stuck in the cycle of life, trying to dull the angst with video games, sex, music, and getting stoned. Bruner is spending time in Japan buying anime and Dragon Ball Z wrist slap bracelets, trying to get out of the “friend zone”, and leaving his wallet in the club. Thundercat is equal parts Parliament, Prince, Frank Zappa, Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan, with his own special brand of freakiness thrown in for good measure. The songs here are more fleshed out than previous records, with a focus on personal tales. But it’s still funky.
Songs on Drunk are short and sweet. Album opener “Rabbot Ho” is 38 seconds. The sound of crickets accompany a mean falsetto, keys and bass before we jump into “Captain Stupido”, a frantic mix of jazz chord progressions while Bruner sings “I feel weird, comb your beard brush your teeth”. It’s a bizarro world version of soul and funk. “Uh Uh” is a massive jazz fusion jam that is part Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and part Fishbone manic episode. “Bus In The Streets” sounds like something you would’ve heard on a Sesame Street segment. It’s a gleeful mix of childhood whimsy and 60s flower power, but with some serious bass playing. “A Fan’s Mail(Tron Song Suite II) is too smooth, even with the meowing at the beginning of the song. And that bass, man.
Musically there’s some serious sophistication. Sonically it’s tight and on-point with everything coming together perfectly. Then you listen a little closer to the lyrics and they bring things down to earth. You feel like you’re hearing thoughts coming from the mind of a shy, introverted dude. Someone who loves video games, hip hop, and fart jokes. That’s not a bad thing. It makes all the sophistication and prodigious playing seem more human.
“Lava Lamp” is a total love lorn slow jam, full of groove and melancholy. There’s also nods to sophisticated rock of the 70s. “Show You The Way” lays on the Steely Dan vibes pretty thick, complete with vocals by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. “Walk On By” features Kendrick Lamar, another artist that seems to be leading the charge for a new wave of important, forward-thinking artists. “Jameel’s Space Ride” sounds like a chip tune jingle that covers police brutality and aliens in just over a minute.
I could spend a few more paragraphs going over all the territory Thundercat covers on Drunk, but there is no point. You just need put Drunk in your ears and experience it for yourself. It’s a next-level kind of record.