Thundercat is a goofball. He’s, of course, a genius—his bass playing puts him in virtuoso territory, the feats of instrumental wizardry on debut album The Golden Age of Apocalypse alone revealing the depths of his abilities. But commingling with his musical virtuosity is an endearing silliness that adds a layer of accessibility to his smooth soul-jazz jams. He’s named for a popular ’80s cartoon, fills his social media with belly-laugh memes and is responsible for maybe the funniest song about drugs ever, “Oh Sheit It’s X,” complete with verse-interrupting “uhhhhhhh.” That Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner, has such a warm, likable persona made his mournful, elegiac 2015 EP The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam all the more heartbreaking. A meditation on death and existence, partially in response to the loss of close friend and collaborator Austin Peralta, The Beyond put aside Bruner’s more playful instincts in favor of a melancholy and atmospheric approach. It’s maybe the most beautiful thing he’s ever released, but also the one that’s least conducive to social or repeat listening.
Drunk isn’t, stylistically, a massive overcorrection, but it finds Bruner back in his fun-loving wheelhouse, having too much fun for anyone’s own good while shredding like a motherfucker. Of course, shredding like a motherfucker is pretty fun—hearing Thundercat do it so effortlessly even more fun. Even before getting into those sweet, sweet bass licks, though, there’s a lot to marvel at here. I mean, it’s called Drunk. And in some ways, it has the kind of looseness and joviality that comes after several rounds—Bruner’s half-submerged face and bloodshot eyes on the album art even suggests that more than a few alcoholic beverages were consumed in the creation of this album. And if I’m being honest here, it’s the kind of album that probably sounds even better after a few drinks.
Not that Drunk doesn’t sound great. It does—the lightly psychedelic mixture of jazz, R&B and electronic music creates a hypnotic and fast-paced vortex of funk that’s not as immediately satisfying as the more fully formed songs on 2013’s Apocalypse but always creates an immersive and sumptuous atmosphere. Some of the highlights are those that find Bruner in the company of other heavyweights, whether it’s Kendrick Lamar lending his effortless lyrical magic on “Walk On By,” or the simultaneously amazing/bonkers “Show You the Way,” in which yacht rock icons Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald each get a verse, complete with Vegas lounge-act introduction and round of applause. Add to that “Them Changes,” the dynamite standout track from The Beyond, and you’ve got a trio of endlessly replayable anchor singles.
The other 20 tracks on Drunk are all strong, but they flow together so well, and come at a fairly rapid clip (most tracks are under three minutes, eight are under two) that picking standouts becomes essentially a fool’s errand. What you have instead is a stream-of-consciousness jam session rife with Bruner’s best cat imitations, self-deprecating daily routines (“beat your meat/go to sleep“), video game references, spending sprees in Tokyo and, at one point, a weed-rolling party crash from Wiz Khalifa. Drunk is, true to its title, both intoxicating and intoxicated, a complicated record to understand on a song-by-song basis, but a beautiful blur of a listening experience, with momentary emotional highlights—touching seemingly every possible place on the entire spectrum of human existence—more than explicitly compositional ones. In that sense it flows a bit like a record by Thundercat’s frequent collaborator Flying Lotus, moving rapidly from one woozy and stunning realm to another with only brief moments to survey the landscape. It’s a cosmic road trip in various states of consciousness, moving at the dizzying speed of life. Maybe it isn’t the journey that yields the best photo albums or landmark visits, but you come away from it knowing you had a great and memorable time.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.