There are wild moments on “Drunk” that make me feel like I’m on an Adult Swim show, high off imagery and infectious grooves alone. There are also sobering moments on “Drunk” that make me feel like I’m little more than a bag of bones with a shelf life and a longing for love. These mood swings, as conceptually antithetical as they may be, work in chaotic tandem on Thundercat’s latest project.
Stephen Bruner, the madman behind Thundercat, has an extensive history as a session musician, working with the likes of Erykah Badu and Kendrick Lamar. But with that professional career comes a juvenile, crass sense of humor abundant throughout his work. Take, for example, the lyrics off the second track on the album, the aptly named “Captain Stupido.” Bruner’s profundity can be felt when he sings “Still feel weird/ Beat your meat, go to sleep.” It’s great stuff, really – it’s no wonder he gets along with folks like Eric Andre. But in all seriousness, even the zanier moments on “Drunk” have top notch production and instrumentals.
The album’s first (and best) instrumental track, “Uh Uh” screams Frank Zappa influence — Bruner’s ethereal “oohs” and “aahs” righteously merge with his deft bass movements in what can best be described as a sonic fever dream. His dexterity with a six string bass is unquestionably something to behold, a skill that years to come will place him side-by-side with Les Claypool, but the funky synth rhythms take precedence on most of the tracks for the better. Take the follow up to “Tron Song,” — off his prior record, “Apocalypse,” — itself a placid tribute to his feline companion: “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)” isn’t much more than another song professing his love for little Tron over some wah-wahing bass riffs and fuzzy synthesizers. This isn’t to say that Thundercat is merely an absurdist project for Bruner to channel his sophomoric adoration for childish humor, however, as the more serious notes on “Drunk” are handled earnestly.
Following the passing of collaborator Austin Peralta in 2012, Bruner paid tribute to him on “Apocalypse” with “A Message for Austin/ Praise the Lord/ Enter the Void,” a somber number with a shimmer of hope in meeting again “in another life.” On this new record, Bruner sees his material further musing on death and the afterlife amidst heady jazz and soul inspired beats. One of Thundercat’s strongest tracks to date, the ever so fleeting “Jethro,” is soulful wonderment on the beauty in passing over to the great beyond. The album’s lead single, “Show You the Way,” touches on similar themes in a more alluring fashion, featuring soft rock virtuosos Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins lending their vocals for a bedazzling space-age trip. “Them Changes,” Thundercat’s most recognizable track since its release in 2015, substitutes the pervasive theme of death with heartbreak over an Isley Brother sample and a criminally funky bassline.
With 23 songs in total, there’s a lot to absorb in “Drunk.” I can talk about the Kendrick verse or the Pharrell verse or the Wiz verse but frankly this article would run longer than any concise music review should. If there were any shortcomings to be noted, they would include the seemingly inconsequential “Day & Night,” or how my favorite song isn’t longer, or pacing and the occasional tone issues. But “Drunk” overcomes its trivial shortcomings. Bruner’s voice is honeyed as are the instrumental decisions — hell, even the humor on the album is enough to warrant putting this album on repeat. There’s plenty to love here and if artists want their names on the best of 2017 list, they best learn from the excellence displayed on this incredible Thundercat record.