Drunk - Thundercat
Thundercat, AKA Stephen Bruner, has been no outsider to popular hip-hop, jazz and soul infused music in recent years. His obscure wardrobe, dark humour and modern elucidations of funk and soul has attracted the attention of the mainstream, collaborating with artists such as Flying Lotus, Childish Gambino and Kamasi Washington as well as being a driving force behind Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly.
Image Credit: Brainfeeder
Photography: Eddie Alcazar
Artwork: Zack Fox
Art Direction: Adam Stover
Music like Thundercat’s doesn’t feel like it should exist within the realms of real life. There’s an effortless sleekness to its complexities, an otherworldliness to its humanity. Thundercat’s fearless components were introduced to the world within his past two endeavours – 2013’s Apocalypse and his 2015 EP The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam in which Thundercat explored bleak concepts such as human extinction and bodily expiration. However, it seems that these morbid themes have been dropped for his latest project Drunk in which Thundercat turns the subject matters towards himself, Stephen Bruner. It’s a marathon through the intellect of Bruner, combining his wit, writing abilities and honesty (along with far more) to detail his views on the world. Essentially taking the form of a 23 track concept record recalling through a hazy night of drinking, drugs, electro-funk and heartbreak.
At the start of the record on the track “Captain Stupido”, we see Thundercat in an obscure, yet to some, strangely relatable scenario in which we see our protagonist, in this case Thundercat, waking up from a wild night out, feeling weird and coming to the realisation that he “left his wallet at the club”. This song immediately introduces the fun and somewhat goofy falsetto that is maintained throughout the rest of the record, posing as a warning, as such, that the themes explored within Drunk are far less moody than those explored within Bruner’s previous work. The album then flows through into tracks such as “Uh Uh” in which we see Bruner’s love for raw jazz music intertwined with a modern hip-hop beat structure, injecting what has to be the most energetic performance on the record, reminding listeners just what it would feel like being in an underground jazz bar, on acid.
Throughout the course of Drunk, Thundercat borrows vocals from various familiar sources, the most well-executed being that of Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar on the track “Walk On By”. Being no stranger to the music produced by Thundercat, Kendrick provides a flawless flow, creating a song which undoubtedly could have fitted into Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly perfectly. Another stand-out feature on the record comes from that of Wiz Khalifa, on the track “Drink Dat”, in which the pairing works surprisingly well. The song is noticeably more slowed down than previous tracks in order to let Wiz’s flow breathe, yet the funk is still very much present. “Drink Dat” thus provides confirmation of Thundercat’s ability to attend to mainstream pop sensibilities, while still maintaining his unique jazz/funk vibe.
Despite a great deal of clear strengths and unique abilities Thundercat possesses throughout the record, there are still some noticeable defects which become slightly noticeable upon further listens. These flaws are somewhat rooted within Bruner’s vocal abilities which seem limited in terms of range, tone and emotional delivery. After close to an hour of listening to Drunk, Thundercat’s vocals become fairly lacklustre and deficient in excitement. This concept alone has the ability to distract some listeners from the amazing jazz, soul, funk and electro-beat music which deserves the majority of credit on the record.
The presentation of this oddball funk feels far more anchored towards Thundercat’s humanity and charisma than his previous work. We see him explore themes such as rejection and self-doubt on “Friend Zone” and a reflection on modern technology on “Bus in the Streets”, all of which undeniably work and create an atmosphere unlike many other albums in existence. Drunk thus paints a transparent picture of Stephen Bruner’s persona: emotional, quirky, intellectual and at times very odd (not to mention a messy drunk), all of which tailor to his style far more than that which we have heard previously, creating much anticipation for what realm of humanity he will dive into within his future endeavours.