Album Review: Drunk - Thundercat
It would be lazy of me to reduce the appeal of Thundercat’s music to nostalgia. You can’t yearn for a past that you've never lived. I didn’t grow up in a time of flared denim and Kenny Loggins. Three clicks into a Spotify playlist requires infinitely less effort than fighting with a dusty needle on a scratched record. You can take thirty photos and send them to your second cousin in a fraction of the time that those poorly lit disposable shots will come back from that not-so-local developer. So, why do we do it? Thundercat’s expansive third studio album takes cues from 70s yacht rock and Nintendo jingles, yet remains distinctly current. It is a reminder of how the past is often not too dissimilar to the present.
You have likely heard the work of Thundercat (Stephen Bruner) without knowing it. Having been a longtime sidekick of Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar, his distinctive sound can be found in the dripping instrumentation of To Pimp a Butterfly. In his third solo release, Thundercat hits hard with serious groove. At first listen, the heavy jazz foundation and lyrical absurdity may discourage new visitors. But in the right setting, Drunk is a phenomenal example of honest songwriting.
It’s rush hour on Edward Street, as office workers spill from the high-rises like ants chasing honey. I’m waiting for a bus to take me to my shift. Everyone is running away, and I’m waiting to begin. I plug into track 15 of the album, ‘Them Changes’, and take in the absurdity of it all. A man absorbed in his phone nearly crosses in front of a pink Honda. A smiling lady is failing to hand out UberEATS pamphlets. A homeless man sleeps against the window of a luxury watch store. The chaos and the contradictions continue as Thundercat cries of lost love over a bouncing drum track.
Where were you when I needed you the most?
Now I'm sitting here with a black hole in my chest
A heartless, broken mess
This conflict between masterful funk groove and sobering lyrics is where the magic lies. He confronts the most essential elements of life and relationships with honesty and clarity. At times, its frantic pace feels like a 2:00 AM viewing of an SBS film. Across 24 tracks, Thundercat shares thoughts spanning from Dragon Ball Z wrist-slap bracelets to police brutality. Meanings and interpretations are offered directly, rather than being buried in obscurity or ego.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, the bassist is open with his honest approach to the album. “That's always what I've tried to do. I've tried to communicate,” he continues. “But at the end of the day it's still for you to understand something. Understand that the world is bigger than you. And that shit is weird."
I think we look to the past for the same reasons. It’s the reassurance that, even before our time, others were living and sharing the same stories. Maybe nostalgia is just a way of feeling a little less alone.
Words, collages and playlist by James Martoo