Although Thundercat’s recent full-length studio album Drunk may seem like the first that a large-scale audience will truly hear of him, a quick look at music’s recent trends will prove otherwise. Electro-jazz bass talent Stephen Bruner, better known as Thundercat, and his collective label Brainfeeder, has been a powerful influence on the modern hip-hop and R&B scene for quite some time now. Bruner and his mastermind collaborator, Flying Lotus, were major producers for Kendrick Lamar’s earth-shattering masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly, and Thundercat himself has added his colorful production to many important artists, such as Mac Miller, Childish Gambino and even the iconic Miss Erykah Badu.
In other words, there has been a gradual push in hip-hop and R&B toward a more melodic, jazz-influenced sound and Thundercat has been a steady force. One listen to this vibrant and beautifully disorienting odyssey that is Drunk, and this push becomes overwhelmingly apparent. This record, however, is monumental for Bruner, as he is finally stepping out from behind the curtain and taking center stage.
As I stated before, Drunk is an odyssey if music has ever heard one. It begins appropriately with opening track “Rabbot Ho,” and then continues to descend into a conceptual drunk madness. The album begins as most wild nights do, upbeat and light, then progresses as the substance seeps in, bringing out darker thoughts and emotions only to end with tracks “3AM,” “Drunk,” “The Turn Down” and “DUI.”
Flying Lotus is an extremely present voice on this project, as the track list shows him featuring on eight of the23 songs. Although the whole album rings with his abstract and lucid approach, the project does not lack individuality. There is a clear and distinct Thundercat sound throughout. His production is solid and diverse, whether it be his vintage bass walk on cult hit “Them Changes,” the surreal electronic drive of “Friend Zone” or the smooth instrumental groove of “Jethro.” This impressive musical effort keeps listeners engaged throughout and provides a fresh and new sound to the music community.
The colorful production that moves this album is also equally matched by a very clean and strong vocal performance from Bruner. His voice is a smooth glowing entity that is wonderfully unique to his work. The melodies he creates are a perfect match for his production: distinct, different and jazzy. The work showcases a few features as well such as Pharrell Williams, jazz icon Kenny Loggins and the legendary rap prodigy Kendrick Lamar. These artists specifically are no strangers to this wave of music that Thundercat has engineered and add their own influence effortlessly on their respective tracks. The one sore thumb on the ballot, however, comes at the hands of weed-glorifying master of mediocrity, Wiz Khalifa. As Khalifa is not exactly what you would call an acclaimed music artist, he seems a bit out of place on the track “Drink Dat.” Despite this apparent setback, it hardly halts the strong track and it is thoroughly surrounded by excellence.
Another X factor on Drunk is the unique comedic twist that Bruner has incorporated into his lyrics. Whether it’s his painfully honest claim to “beat your meat, go to sleep,” his “Dragon Ball Z” references or his literal meowing over the track “A Fan’s Mail,” the weird quirky sneak peak into Thundercat’s life makes for honest lyricism and a comedic talent similar to that of singer-songwriter Father John Misty. Once again, we can observe great cohesiveness as his odd twist in his words accents his unique production eloquently
Despite these quirks that make the album true to Bruner, Drunk is at the end of the day a thematic existential crisis that shows an artist struggling, asking questions and answering them simultaneously. Thundercat’s lyrics continually show him contemplating death, the fleeting construct of time, madness, love, police brutality and everything in between. Drunk’s title track near the album’s close shows our hero on the negative side of the substance-use spectrum, pleading that “I’m drowning away all of the pain till I’m totally numb, sometimes you want to feel alive, but not on someone else’s time.” Painfully honest statements like these along with little nuggets such as “It’s okay to disconnect sometimes,” makes this album a profound and moving work to go through.
There’s an age old saying, especially prominent in the college setting, that goes along the lines of this: “Drunk statements are just sober thoughts.” On Thundercat’s whimsical cacophonic trek through the land of Drunk, he has had a little too much liquid courage and finally lets out the thoughts that a sober self pushes to the back confines of the mind. This album is intelligently and elegantly drunk, and at it’s best moments, even wasted, in every sense of the word. It is eccentric, cringeworthy, silly, sad and, most of all, honest. Drunk hits home with its ability to be all of these extreme things and still remain alarmingly relatable to all who listen. Although surely we are not all similar to the mastermind that is Stephen Bruner, we now know that we are struggling with similar staggering, crippling, sloppy drunk issues. It is these issues and Thundercat’s complex dance with them that makes Drunk one of the most compelling musical quests of the year thus far.