Thundercat has never been one for the spotlight. Born Stephen Bruner, the (nearly) all-purpose musician has made a career out of complementation, whether it be with similarly-acclaimed producer Flying Lotus or even Kendrick Lamar. His own first two studio albums, The Golden Age of Apocalypse (2011) and Apocalypse (2013), were both promising, and Drunk, released Feb. 24, continues the solid streak.
Its 23-track length, which at first can be mistaken as intimidating, is soon realized to be an extended trip; a palpable weirdness ushers the listener along with an unrushed walk-in-the-park type feel, if that walk in the park was an intergalactic ride through the funk-infused Thunder Galaxy.
Still, Drunk feeds on features — “Show You the Way” arguably wins the entire album, bolstered by surprise appearances from Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, while the potent “Walk On By” immediately follows with a Kendrick Lamar verse. The pairing that gave To Pimp a Butterfly its iconic sound is just as powerful in this reunion. Thundercat cheeks a resonating sentiment (“At the end of it all / Nobody wants to drink alone”) and, of course, Lamar does his shit.
At times the project seems like it’s operating drunkenly, or maybe tripped out, or maybe both. “Captain Stupido” lives on ever-changing tempo and irrational dialogue — “I feel weird / Comb your beard, brush your teeth / Still feel weird / Beat your meat, go to sleep” — but it works. Thundercat has showed us before how to embrace and utilize the weird (see: “Wesley’s Theory,” the first track on Lamar’s Butterfly) and in “Jameel’s Space Ride,” an otherwise provocative track, he intertwines spontaneity with actual implication, squeezing in an assertive “Fuck yeah” without regard for stricture.
The looseness of the album should not be confused for a lack of cohesion; Drunk thrives on the melodic agreement from track to track. It’s refreshing, really, to be part of this prolonged adventure without ever feeling overworked, or stale, or even bored. Each track brings with it an unfamiliar sound, albeit one that lends itself accordingly to the feel of the album.
If not taking itself seriously is the ethos behind this release, a Wiz Khalifa verse seems very fitting. Wiz does his shit too, which is OK, because this is a track, and an album, about cheekily doing things — love things, groove things, rebellious things, things of the like — with an air of buoyancy. Hence, Wiz, and hence, “Drink Dat.”
It has become a signature for Thundercat, this buddy-buddy style of both swerve and sometimes subtle commiseration. Drunk, grounded in its undertones of R&B, soul, and funk, creates an aura of obscurity. It proves that, sometimes, the lines need to be blurred.