By Jamie McNamara
Like much of Brainfeeder’s back catalog, Thundercat’s third full-length is an album that is often hard to pin down. Featuring production from Flying Lotus and appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Pharell, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, Drunk is an ode to soft rock that the virtuosic musician has said is inspired by times in which he was less than sober.
Production from Flying Lotus is apparent from the get-go as the 23-track album winds its way through CR-78 (you know, the drum machine that ticked its way to infamy on hits like Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That”) backed footwork, neo-soul and the kind of avant-jazz that Kendrick Lamar played with on his opus To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s not hard to imagine Drunk being the elevator music that soundtracks the descent to hell.
On tracks like the gentle “Lava Lamp,” producer Sounwave flexes the same muscles he used on To Pimp a Butterfly to lift Thundercat’s yearning falsetto into elegiac love song territory. That falsetto permeates much of Drunk even when the backing track maneuvers through its multitudinous moods. “Jethro” featuring Fly Lo, sounds like a cut off of 2013’s You’re Dead, but instead of the blinding jazz stylings of that album, Thundercat has embraced the light, even if it’s often obfuscated by drunken haze.
Elsewhere, songs like the lead single “Show Me the Way” featuring soft rock legends Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins showcases Thundercat’s ability to blend chopped-and-screwed soul with funk basslines and thrilling vocal turns. Like much of the album, the song sounds less like the soft rock of yesteryear and more like a jazz-indebted Joe Jackson single taken on a bad acid trip. On paper, Drunk is an outrageous concept that doesn’t need to try very hard to justify its existence.
Kendrick Lamar’s appearance on “Walk On By” finds the rapper giving his best feature verse since his appearance on Fly Lo’s “Never Catch Me.” It isn’t the flashiest of verses from Lamar, but it is a welcome break from Thundercat’s voice that can become tiresome as the album goes on. Still, where Thundercat only seems able to show one area of his vocal range, his bass playing makes up for it by covering ground from ripping jazz lines to chugging dance rhythms.
As far as subject matter goes, Thundercat has his tongue in his cheek, even when tackling subjects like racism and police brutality. Songs like “Tokyo” tell stories of Thundercat’s love affair with anime culture and features lyrics like “Fucking Goku ruined me.”
Drunk isn’t perfect, but it’s utterly fascinating. It’s an album that no other artist could make but Thundercat. Because of that its missteps are lessened by the sheer weirdness of it all.Drunk, Thundercat