Release Date: February 24, 2017
Drunk, the third full-length release from musical savant/bass master Thundercat, comes along at just the right moment.
Arriving at the back end of this gloomy, confusing post-election winter, Drunk offers little hope for the future but opens up an inviting door to existential contemplation that comes straight from Stephen Bruner’s pessimistic id. These songs are valuable as much for what they hide and strip away as they are for their points of emphasis. Thundercat rightfully feels no overwhelming need to show off his trademark lightning-fast bass chops and risk distracting from what amounts to a compelling, introspective narrative. Instead, his brilliant skills as an arranger and lyricist take precedence. These songs roam free from expectations, bouncing and modulating at will with emotive low-end poems tucked neatly beneath scrumptious synth textures and warm, laid-back drums that recall the soulful stride of J Dilla. The rich vocal production sits right in, letting Bruner’s warped perspective merge with the listener’s psyche early on in this somber pleasure cruise.
Thundercat’s experience as a key contributor on To Pimp a Butterfly gloriously shows through on “Jethro,” a first-half highlight with a cosmic groove at its center. “Day & Night,” a bite-sized electro-funk treat, leads straight into Thundercat’s collaborative wet dream, “Show You the Way,” that sees both Michael McDonald AND Kenny Loggins providing vocals that plod along in yacht-rock heaven. The nifty features continue with the low light hip-hop of “Walk on By” and “Drink Dat,” which make no stylistic sacrifices but will reel in fans of more mainstream rap as platforms for some patient, layered bars from Kendrick Lamar and two prototypically blunted yet compelling verses of lifestyle advice from Wiz Khalifa. When it comes to this album’s varied charm, it’s all tied together by the lyrics.
I seriously doubt that much embellishment of Bruner’s personal experience went into Drunk‘s wry and remarkably honest lyrics. He thoroughly nails a kind of muted bliss that is wholly unique and reflective of his goofy personality. The album’s many meditations on life’s inexplicably weird moments are oddly touching and salient, like a druggier musical equivalent to Louie. One can’t help but crack up at the plight of the jaded world traveler on “Tokyo” or the perennially-gifted loner who comes through on “Friend Zone.” These songs leave a grand impression as unlikely sources of earworm hooks, even when their subjects lean toward paranoia and self-doubt. Their sonic structures are so refined and ear-catching that they instantly compel me to share them with others, perhaps in part because their message strikes so close to home and effectually makes me crave company (Thundercat, can we hang out??).
Any constructed ‘message’ to be found in these grooves is strategically hard to define, but pockets of scatterbrained insight add up throughout: In a life where no clear direction exists, even being the best bassist in the entirety of the L.A. hip-hop scene, with plenty of famous friends to show for it, isn’t necessarily the answer. Simply taking it all in one day at a time, hoping against hope for things to get better, is just o.k.