Christian Hurry talks through Thundercat’s latest album Drunk, his first since working with Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp A Butterfly
Released 24th February via Brainfeeder
Bass guitar virtuoso Thundercat has released his first full-length album since collaborating with Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp A Butterfly. The undeniable funk he brought to Pimp is fleshed out and explored on this new record. However, Kendrick fans looking for more TPAB should be warned: this album would fit more comfortably on a shelf of jazz-fusion records than with most melodic hip-hop.
They would soon figure that out for themselves. Album openers ‘Rabbot Ho’ and ‘Captain Stupido’ offer common jazz-fusion tropes. The dissonant chords, wandering keys, drunk-feel rhythm quickly prepare the listener for music which some may find a little alien. After just a few words sung in delicate falsetto by Thundercat himself, and the album opens up into a colourful sonic palette. Exciting and fast-paced, it’s a great introduction for the new fans he has no doubt picked up since TPAB.
As is often the case with fusion, the album is a display of sheer ability. There is no better example than the track ‘Uh Uh’. I’m sure I could find some clever musical choice he’s made on this track, but it would be beside the point. This track is just so fast. Bass guitars are, for all intents and purposes, a large slab of wood with thick metal rods nailed in at either end. The speed at which Thundercat can pluck those thick metal rods with one hand whilst the other explores the entire length of the neck is dazzling. I’m sure Formula One cars have been intricately designed, and that each curve in the chassis delivers optimum aerodynamic performance, but when I see them go by, all I’m thinking is: how on earth did anyone make that do this?! The same logic applies here.
Moments of calm keep this album from becoming unfocussed. ‘Show You The Way’ featuring Kenny Loggins is smoother than silk. Listening to the vocals on ‘Lava Lamp’ is hypnotic. The fast-paced transitions between bass-driven funk and soulful song writing really make this album pop. Thundercat will spend thirty seconds impressing you, stop, and then spend three minutes moving you.
Great albums have their flaws, and as is so often the case with fusion, here it is the lyrics. Corny sci-fi themes, half-hearted criticisms of the smart phone era, cats… They appear on the more technical songs and feel like an afterthought. However, on more soulful tracks, for example ‘Walk On By’, the confessional diary style lyrics suit the music and give more reason to sway than just the underlying groove. Kendrick even provides a verse and it’s clear the influence has flowed both ways since TPAB. ‘Jameel’s Space Ride’ turns what could be another corny sci-fi track into a cautious response to police violence in the US. ‘Friend Zone’ features a bassline that may remind listeners of TPAB opener ‘Wesley’s Theory’; a token “b*tch don’t kill my vibe” from Thundercat confirms that.
Drunk is a fully-formed album, displaying Thundercat’s technique and soul. It will surely make it’s way on to a few best of the year lists.