I don’t remember where I first heard of Thundercat (AKA Stephen Bruner), but I remember being amazed by his bass guitar skills. His fingers seemed to move on his guitar frets as nimbly as a spider racing across a web. I caught him live at Mamby on the Beach earlier this year, keen on hearing him live. He didn’t disappoint. He wowed the crowd with a jazz-fusion set that was unlike anything you heard the whole weekend.
His newest album, Drunk, is also unlike anything you’ve heard in a long while. It blends electronica with jazz, yacht rock, funk, and even a bit of trip hop. “Rabbit Ho” is a quirky intro with Bruner’s falsetto singing about friends coming and going from his life before it slips into “Captain Stupido,” which is a collaboration with one of his best pals – Flying Lotus. “I feel weird,” Bruner sings, perhaps speaking for all of us, as he struggles to get through the odd feelings that surround everyday activities like brushing your teeth. His bass and Lotus’ loops and beats are a killer combo.
“Uh Uh” is an instrumental showcase of Bruner’s stunning bass skills. Seriously, it will leave you dumbfounded. I have no idea how he plays that fast and that well at the same time. “Bus in the Streets” has Bruner watching the world go by and not wanting to get involved in the rat race. “Won’t you leave some things a mystery?” he asks in this age of everyone Tweeting, hash-tagging, and posting everything at every moment.
“A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)” is perhaps the greatest love song written to a cat of all time. Bruner sings about his admiration for his cat having nine lives, doing what he wants, and lying in the sun all day. “Everybody wants to be a cat. It’s cool to be a cat.” It has a groove as smooth as a cat’s walk, too.
“Sometimes you have to let it go,” Bruner sings in the opening of “Lava Lamp.” The song moves as languidly as its namesake. “I’m so tired. Where can I lay my head?” Bruner asks. It’s a common theme for a lot of us in these times. We’re so overwhelmed that we’re losing time to decompress. Flying Lotus comes back on “Jethro,” and brings wicked beats with him. “Show You the Way” has powerhouse guests Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, and both men show they can still slay a microphone (and a keyboard, too, in McDonald’s case). It’s a glorious return of yacht rock that you won’t realize you missed until you hear this track.
The special guests keep on coming as Kendrick Lamar drops some guest vocals on “Walk on By” – another groovy, smooth track. “Blackkk” is the smoothest song about overcoming fear of death I’ve ever heard. “Tokyo” would be great to have in your ears as you cruise through the city. Bruner sings about eating too much fish, blowing all his money on anime, and wanting to stay another night there.
“Jameel’s Space Ride” has Bruner dreaming about driving into space as he’s pulled over by the cops. “Friend Zone” is a sharp dis on someone keeping him at arm’s length instead of embracing him as a lover. “I’m your biggest fan, but I guess that’s just not good enough,” he sings as his bass and Mono/Poly’s synths deliver dance beats. “Don’t call me, don’t text me after two a.m., unless you plan on giving me some, ‘cause I got enough friends,” Bruner sings. Ouch.
In contrast, “Them Changes” (the first single) has Bruner singing about heartbreak. “Nobody move there’s blood on the floor, and I can’t find my heart. Where did it go? Did I leave it in the cold?” His bass groove on it gets into your circulatory system and won’t leave until you dance. Flying Lotus’ beats sure help, too (as they do on the next track, “Where I’m Going”). “Drink Dat” is a slow jam for people starting to wind down after partying in the late hours. “Can’t open my eyes, girl, ‘cause I’m just too wasted,” Bruner sings between raps by Wiz Khalifa.
“Inferno” is the most psychedelic track on the record with Lotus’ trippy beats. “3AM” has Bruner still awake despite being (according to the theme of the album by now) drunk and tired. His bass groove in it is something Christopher Cross hears in his dreams. “Drunk” gets as wobbly as its namesake thanks to Bruner’s reverbed bass and Flying Lotus’ melted cheese synths.
“The Turn Down” is a witty song about the aftermath of too much partying. Bruner laments the mess in his house, the location of Captain Planet (who might be one of Bruner’s cats), and guests who have lingered too long. Pharrell teams up with him on the track, and Bruner has said multiple times that Pharrell’s contribution to the track blew his mind. He does nail it.
The album ends with the great, keyboard-driven “DUI.” Bruner’s night went from drowning his sorrows, to a fun time, to exhaustion, to annoyance, and then either back home, jail, or the grave. “I’m so tired,” he sings again just before the keyboards turn into the sound of screeching tires and then fade into distortion. Did he crash? Did he make it home? Is he in the hoosegow?
Drunk is masterfully crafted, and the best-engineered and mixed album I’ve heard so far in 2017. It’s a stunning, eclectic piece of work. Only good things are ahead for Thundercat. Get Drunk.
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