Stephen Bruner a/k/a Thundercat is a musical omnivore. In interviews he’ll cite Manhattan Transfer, Mahavishnu Orchestra, John Coltrane, and video game music as influences – all in the same sentence. He’s played with everyone from Snoop Dogg to Suicidal Tendencies. And he’s already appeared on as many albums as he years old (33!). Such a broad palette can be a blessing or a curse. Fortunately, Thundercat has managed to channel his wandering mind and expansive talent into another uniquely cohesive – and funky – package with his latest, Drunk.
Whether the topic matter is mortality, race relations, or how freakin’ cool Tokyo or his pet cat is, Thundercat brings a levity and sincerity to the party that would be hard for most people to balance. If I told you he accomplishes this with a 6-string bass and entrancing falsetto as his primary weapons, it’d be even harder to believe.
Drunk is tight, so tight, almost efficient: 22 joints and not one clocks over 4 minutes long. In contrast to Thundercat’s live shows, where songs gets blown out into transcendent (sometimes frenetic) jam sessions, each studio track packs a concentrated punch. “Bus in the Streets” argues for unplugging from technology over a snappy Steely Dan-esque synth line. “Walk on By” is a yearning R&B burner with Kendrick Lamar guesting with a potent dose of street poetry. “Them Changes” – a bringback from his 2015 EP – showcases the funkiest bassline this side of Larry Graham. Then there’s the two Big Singles: “Show You the Way” featuring Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, with no irony whatsoever, and “Friend Zone” which lit the place up when I saw Thundercat perform it a couple weeks back and has already reserved a spot on most Best of 2017 lists.
Speaking of his live show, it was a melting pot of jazzbos, hip-hop heads, skaters, Pitchfork disciples, and drum circle types – a testament to Thundercat’s broad appeal. You can love him for his virtuosity, his groove, his unabashed nerdiness… or maybe you’ll find some other reason. I’ll leave that to you and Thundercat.