By Dominic V. Cassidy (@lyre_of_apollo)
Stephen Bruner, who performs under the moniker Thundercat, has just released his third full-length studio album, Drunk. Burner is an already established bassist, playing for legendary L.A. punk outfit Suicidal Tendencies, and recently featuring on tracks for other artists, including Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly. After the rough reception of his previous studio album Apocalypse, this album can be seen as a rise in quality on an arguably lackluster discography.
Drunk as far as albums go, is very odd. One of the saving graces of the album is the jazz tones and influences running through almost every track, the smooth sway is very easy listening. The album also seems to be bleeding neon and the full-colour spectrum with the album feeling almost like an auditory kaleidoscope at times, especially through the fifth track on the album A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II). While it does offer the immediate wackiness and almost the intentional neurosis found normally in Woody Allen movies; of singing of wanting to be a cat, and the peppering’s of background meow’s the track – sadly like many on the record – wear out their welcome within a few listens.
While the album is not all sunshine and daisies, it is not without standout tracks: Lava Lamp especially gets the balance perfectly between the jazz, funk, pop, and electro elements, all with Bruner’s voice over it, where it seems like he’s looking for range that is maybe missing in other tracks on the album, which come across as bland in places. Another track that gives respite from the droning near-melancholy of the rest of the album is Tokyo, which has a constant funk buzz, and at the end of two and a half minute runtime you wish had gone on a little longer, with some genuinely funny lyrics, including the chuckle-worthy: “I’d probably hide in the suicide forest (shit!)”; and the whole track kind of speaks volumes about a hinted at weeaboo past for Bruner.
Tracks like Lava Lamp, Tokyo, and Friend Zone are probably the three best tracks on the album, and while it is lovely to see what the Thundercat project can do when hitting the creative marks, it feels somewhat bittersweet that the final delivery was not closer to these tracks. Even stylistically, as the tone of the more sombre songs on the album do work lyrically, it could be argued that the drab tone with a smooth jazz background feels somewhat incongruous. One thing should be said for the featuring artists on the album, including the previously mentioned Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, and Pharrell, is that when they do make an appearance they exist purely to increase the quality of the music, especially Kendrick’s featured track Walk On By which does seem to sample Tears for Fears’ Mad World, is a fantastically listenable song, especially Kendrick’s actual rap in the song.
Overall Drunk is an album that upon first listen, was very interesting, the lyrics were funny, not so much to the level of comedy that bands like The Lonely Island are known for, but definitely elicited more of a chuckle than some of the more serious music that is very much in vogue of the last five years, like Adele. However, once the veneer, which sadly for the majority of the album is paper thin, has worn away, the album becomes almost a chore to listen to, hard to place which track you are on sometimes, with the bass which Bruner is known for, features across the whole album with the very relaxed classically jazzy piano the music drifts into itself.
If it was not for the tracks on the album which are very listenable, the album would be deeply flawed; however with the few gems that are on the album, and the production which is often maybe not up to the level of an artist who is himself a seasoned producer, the album does seem like a few very studio high-grade songs, randomly inter-spliced with something more akin to bedroom recordings. While the album does have a handful of standout tracks and genuinely clever lyrics scattered through the album, this is not enough to offset the abject blandness of the album, and the way it wears out its welcome before it’s over.