Albums of 2017 (#9): Thundercat – Drunk
Stephen Bruner's third studio album as Thundercat, Drunk invites us down a genre-bending rabbit hole full of humour, politics, anime, video games and more
'Let’s go hard, get drunk and travel down a rabbit hole.' Even in its opening few lines, Stephen Bruner – better known as bass maestro Thundercat – prepares us to dive deep into the odyssey of sound that is Drunk. What follows is an epic adventure that takes the listener through cosmic, sun-dappled jazz, neo-soul soundscapes and just about everything in-between. He even enlists Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald for the smooth R'n'B jam Show You the Way.
After Bruner’s statement, it’s unsurprising that Drunk revealed itself to be the aural equivalent of Alice falling into the rabbit hole, a psychedelic dive that’s further catapulted him into the public eye. Yet, coming off the back of the relatively restrained and sombre 2015 mini-album, The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, it at first seemed like a curveball. However, as Bruner explains himself, the free-flowing sonic architecture of Drunk partly stems from working with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington: “There was so much music in that period, the music I was working on, these moments, there was lots of different ways [to make the album].”
It’s not just the carefree attitude toward genre conventions that makes Drunk such a dynamic listen though. Immense pleasure (and more than a few laughs) is to be found in hearing Bruner’s lyrics. It’s his most honest, open and personality-driven record to date, a style of songwriting adopted following his numerous collaborations. “I feel like these things inspired me to be bold enough to say how I feel,” he explains. “Compared to writing pop songs, it became more like actually what it was to me.”
While his previous two albums focused mostly on death, here Bruner turns his attention to life through a heady mix of pop culture references, light-hearted humour and societal observations. He navigates through mundane moments on the likes of Captain Stupido ('Comb your beard, brush your teeth'), while on Tokyo he spends his money on anime and pachinko machines, comparing himself to Dragon Ball Z protagonist Goku. With A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II), he gets more personal still, almost feeling envious of his beloved cat Tron and tenderly musing that if he was a feline there’d be 'No one watching over me / I do what I want'.
Even in this seemingly innocent look into his mind though, there’s always the sense that something threatening lies around the corner. And there usually is. Racial politics comes to the fore throughout Drunk, but like many other topics he tackles it head-on with a dose of humour. “Politics gives you one dirty look and you’re like ‘excuse me, what was that?’ That’s just the name of the game, you know,” he laughs.
So on the likes of the intergalactic, upbeat Jameel’s Space Ride, his casual, innocent desire to ride his bike around his block is ruined by the police: 'Will they attack? Would it be ‘cause I’m black'. He calls on Captain Planet, a cartoon character who protects the earth from pollution, on The Turn Down to help fix 'the mess we’ve made', fully aware of the impossibility of this task.
Humour, politics, anime, video games and so much more collide in the genre-bending melting pot of Drunk. Ten months after its initial release, it’s hard not to continually want to take another intoxicating plunge into Thundercat’s vibrant rabbit hole and explore the many wonders of what might well be his magnum opus. Even after numerous listens, its dizzying, cascading, uninhibited nature continues to reveal new surprises. Just like Goku, Drunk proves that Thundercat is over 9000.