Stephen Bruner, better known as Thundercat, is renowned for his unique stage presence and his prowess on the bass. Thundercat’s Drunk was released on February 24, 2017 and comes as his third studio album; following LPs The Golden Age of Apocalypse and Apocalypse, as well as his EP The Beyond/ Where the Giants Roam. Thundercat has also worked alongside a variety of artists: contributing to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, and Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, to name a few. Drunk allows listeners to ride a thunderous and psychedelic wave of funk and soul down a rabbit hole where Thundercat simultaneously exhibits his simplest and most abstract takes on life.
Thundercat bombards listeners with an incredible diversity of sounds. In “Uh Uh” he lays down a multitude of psychotic bass runs, reminiscent of Stevie Wonder tracks such as “Higher Ground” or “Superstition.” The funky, psychotic frenzy of bass riffs weave in and out of each other, while the piano adds a jazz element to the piece.
The smooth progression of the album is partially due to its short songs, which are largely meant to act as transitions from other tracks that Thundercat scatters throughout Drunk, some of which stand out as highlights on the album. “Bus in These Streets” is one of the more upbeat pieces in which Thundercat explores the wonders of technology, singing, “Where would we be, if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts.” He goes on to assure us, “It’s ok to disconnect sometimes.”
Thundercat delivers short commentaries on the human experience. He seems to take a bird’s eye view, and as he mentions in “Bus in These Streets” he’s “stuck in the clouds”. Thundercat takes a godly perspective on life, carelessly judging the blemishes in human nature, such as the “friend zone”. Acting as a higher being he mocks society’s flaws and his own, while also taking time to praise those aspects of society which he deems “cool”, such as anime. The album is like a soundtrack for Thundercat’s life, maybe the elevator music that would be playing on a ride to space.
Pondering the enigmas of life seems to be a recurring theme in Thundercat’s music. In “The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam” (his previous album), he marveled at the mystery of death and what lies beyond. In “Drunk”, he seems to explore the complexity of life and the universe. The incredibly intricate bass riffs and synths transport the listeners minds high up into the atmosphere, where one can see the human position on Earth from the darkness of space.
“Jethro” is a spacy track that drifts along with warm synths that complement Thundercat’s soulful falsetto. The track pulses with a diversity of ambient electronic sounds that create an atmosphere that one might imagine at a deep space nightclub. This is the kind of song you listen to when you are looking up into space and realize how small you are, or encountering aliens. “Inferno” is another track in which Thundercat seems to grapple with the mysteries of life, exploring the irony of the tendency in life to jump “out of the pan, and into the fire. The descent into madness”.
“Jameel’s Space Ride,” on the other hand, discusses racial issues. Thundercat sings “I want to go right, I’m safe on my block, except for the cops. Will they attack? Would it be ’cause I’m black? I want to fly away, off into space and into the sun, with all those spirits in space and aliens, where we belong.” Thundercat describes police brutality and dreams to escape into space. The concept of the track is similar to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Space Program”, in which Q-Tip, Jarobi, and Phife Dawg sing about gentrification in poor African American communities, and predict that private space programs will not take black people to Mars. “Space Program” also ridicules the fact that the U.S. spends billions of dollars to fund space exploration yet provides little relief to impoverished neighborhoods. Ultimately, both songs share a theme of dreams of space, and escaping racism.
While one can get lost in the somber tones of Drunk,Thundercat tries to lighten the mood with tracks such as “In A Fan’s Mail Bruner”, in which he simply explores the idea that it would be cool to be a cat. Suggesting “Everybody want’s to be a cat, it’s cool to be a cat… my roar would be so powerful, I would scare off everything.” Thundercat’s desperate yearns to have nine lives and lay carelessly under the sun seem futile, but maybe one day Thundercat… maybe one day. As Bruner’s feline daydream fades, he brings the track to a close, with a chorus of “meows,” capturing his dreams musically as he does throughout the album.
Thundercat features a variety of artists including Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins in “Show You the Way;” this track is a modern incarnation of 80s R&B and is reminiscent of Marvin Gaye. Featuring Kendrick Lamar, “Walk On By” is one of the more melancholy tracks, in which Thundercat explores a certain solitude that comes “at the end of it all”. Thundercat also features artists such as Pharrell Williams and Wiz Khalifa.
Drunk is overall an emotional space ride. Thundercat immerses listeners into the deepest depths of his subconscious. As a result, the album feels very personal. One can get caught up in Thundercat’s desperate laments and and wildest dreams. He has us ponder our very existence as humans, from the depths of space to our twitter accounts. While some parts of the album may be too obscure and experimental for some listeners, there is something for everyone in this album. Though this album seems to be an album “for Thundercat”, he doesn’t hold back in creating countless gems on Drunk.
Henry McDevitt (277)