- "I feel weird," sings Stephen Bruner, AKA Thundercat, on "Captain Stupido," the second song on his fourth album, Drunk. He suggests some coping strategies to himself—"beat your meat, go to sleep." In the casual language of a Seth Rogen film, Drunk consults a teenager's self-help guide for overcoming unease. Get high. Watch anime. Play pachinko. The glitter-specked jazz fusion of Drunk never suggests the onset of anxiety. On most of the album's 23 tracks, where Bruner's bass squiggles around rich layers of piano, keyboard, guitar and vocal harmony, everything seems fine. Understanding that it's not isn't what Bruner wants you to grasp. Instead, he gestures to the handlebars on the bike that he pedals, on "Jameel's Space Ride," "through all the bullshit with the wind in my face."
In the years since his 2011 debut, The Golden Age Of Apocalypse, Thundercat albums have drawn more readily from Bruner's life, though the themes were usually familiar. On Apocalypse, released two years later, "Heartbreaks + Setbacks" negotiated romantic hurdles in broad terms. "Them Changes," a song on his last release, The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam, recounts having his heart ripped out and "thrown in the trash." (The track reappears on Drunk.) Bruner's latest full-length largely forgoes abstraction for a plainspoken style, couched in running commentary and loose asides. "From the minute I wake up / I'm staring at the screen / watching the world go insane," he sings on "Bus In These Streets."
The music on Drunk matches the snap of Bruner's to-the-point lyrics. Most songs, many of which are co-produced by Flying Lotus, are one to two minutes long. A few are even more concise. Some are interludes ("Day & Night"); others, such as "3AM," are nuggets of internal monologue, captured with the immediacy of an Instagram post. There's instrumental jazz funk ("Uh Uh"), synthy R&B ("Jethro"), yacht rock ("Show You The Way," featuring Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins) and several hip-hop tracks, including a duet with Kendrick Lamar, whose To Pimp A Butterfly album was co-produced by Bruner. On Drunk's numerous vignettes, Bruner presents his extensive musical interests in an effortlessly relatable style.
On "Jameel's Space Ride," Bruner worries about encountering police over a synthy Nintendo beat. By suggesting that such scenarios might compare with a boss fight in a videogame, he imposes fantasy onto an everyday, existential hazard: "Will they attack? / Would it be cause I'm black / I want to fly away off into space and into the sun." Moreso than mortality, a constant companion on Bruner's albums, Drunk ruminates on escape. On "A Fan's Mail (Tron Song Suite II)," he considers the ease of a cat's life. He binges on fish and anime in "Tokyo." On the Mono/Poly-produced "Friend Zone," he consoles himself by playing Mortal Kombat and Diablo. In these tensions between his indulgences and the hassles of being a young, black man, Bruner shows that one is a refuge from the other.
As Drunk reaches its woozy, downtrodden climax, a loose concept emerges. The album is a scattershot diary of Bruner's day-to-day, examined through the lens of his recreational pursuits—that is, getting fucked up. But, when Bruner's social conscience speaks up, the insights—spiced with slacker humour, free of sanctimony—are persuasive, even moreso when accompanied by an embrace of his flaws, or, in the case of "The Turn Down," a silly digression. Where guest vocalist Pharrell Williams gauges the political climate in broad, blunt strokes, Bruner observes those issues through references to Air Jordans and Captain Planet. Levity and trauma go hand-in-hand—for the sake of Bruner's sanity, they have to. "One more glass to go / where this ends we'll never know," Bruner sings on "DUI," the album's last song. The answer, after nearly an hour of tragicomic soul-searching and self-medicating, remains foggy.
01. Rabbot Ho
02. Captain Stupido
03. Uh Uh
04. Bus In These Streets
05. A Fan's Mail (Tron Song Suite II)
06. Lava Lamp
08. Day & Night
09. Show You The Way feat. Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins
10. Walk On By feat. Kendrick Lamar
13. Jameel's Space Ride
14. Friend Zone
15. Them Changes
16. Where I'm Going
17. Drink Dat feat. Wiz Khalifa
19. I Am Crazy
22. The Turn Down feat. Pharrell Williams