Thundercat ‘Drunk’ CD/LP/DIG (Brainfeeder) 4/5

Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner, returns for his third full-length album ‘Drunk’ which follows on from his last release in 2015, the EP ‘The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam’, and is again released on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label. This is another esoteric journey through the mind of the world’s favourite electric bass player and contributor to some of the most regarded artists in the modern music climate, from Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin and label boss FlyLo.The album contains 23 tracks, although the Japanese CD release has a bonus track (more later), but only six tracks are more than 3 minutes in length. This is quite typical of Thundercat so this is definitely not an album of singles. And as the title suggests, the alcohol/being drunk and escapism theme permeates the set with Thundercat’s added soulful vocals being quite accomplished, and it does remind me of a time when bass players would be given recording contracts on major labels to create fully formed albums, such as those by Stanley Clarke and Michael Henderson, with Michael also providing vocals, so this isn’t an album designed strictly for bass players, but obviously his playing is virtuosic and impeccable.  

As common with recent Thundercat material, his West Coast home is a major musical influence, with The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan being obvious reference points here, including getting Michael McDonald to guest on ‘Show You The Way’. Other vocal guests include Pharrell on ‘The Turn Down’, Kendrick Lamar (‘Walk On By’) and a pointless appearance from rapper Wiz Khalifa on ‘Drink Dat’. But for some frantic musicianship, check the 2’16” instrumental jam ‘Uh Uh’ with its speed up ‘Ashley’s Roachclip’ breakbeat and dexterous bass guitar timing, piano rushes and mollifying vocal harmonies over the top. ‘Show you the Way’ is possibly the only real radio playable track, and it does sound like a contemporary Doobie Brothers song, with electric piano chords, LA synth movements and additional vocals from Kenny Loggins – yes, the guy who did ‘Footloose’ (but play ‘Make The Move’ from the Caddyshack OST in 1980 for some sample heaven).

And in this cynical world, Thundercat doesn’t take himself too seriously with lyrics such as ‘everybody wants to be a cat’ on the otherwise soulful, ‘A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)’ which blends jazz tones with smooth vocal melodies. And he must be one of the few musicians to reference Japanese Anime, Manga and video games within his records. Thus, it’s refreshing to hear an artist that incorporates something else other than failed relationship material within their releases. And so it’s a very difficult album to categorise, other than it sounds like a typical Thundercat album. And with production from Flying Lotus adding his own unique twist on modern electronic black music, the Brainfeeder label continues to show the world how to be eclectic but also familiar at the same time. There’s modern soul in there, frantic new age funk, a bit of Frank Zappa humour and video game electronica – but all with integrity and honestly, plus some mesmerising bass playing.

But it also has its unfortunate moments such as ‘Drink Dat’, with its poor guest lyrics from Wiz Khalifa, which could have been written by a 14-year old kid trying to impress his school friends on his experiences of getting drunk. And the bonus Japanese CD track ‘Hi’ which features Mac Miller, a Pittsburgh MC, but here he sings rather than raps. This ‘bonus’ is not missed in the rest of the world as it sounds like an unfinished demo – and not a good demo. These may be Thundercat’s drinking buddies, but best to leave them at the bar and go drinking elsewhere. And even Kendrick’s verse on Walk On By’ (not that one) seems a little disjointed and was probably not needed. Added guests from the Hip Hop community I find rarely work on more progressive contemporary music, and coming from a strong and lengthy Hip Hop background, I feel I can identify and comment upon this. Thundercat deserves equals, and artists such as Pharoahe Monch or Black Thought from The Roots would have been a better fit here.

But to redeem the release, ‘Drunk’ also contains the now modern soul classic ‘Them Changes’ from his 2015 EP, with its Isley Brothers ‘Footsteps in the dark’ drum loop and infectious bassline groove. And thankfully, the vinyl release was issued at the same time as the other formats, with it being another Brainfeeder boxset piece but this time pressed on 4 red 10” vinyl records.

Damian Wilkes