Thundercat, AKA Stephen Bruner, may be best known for his nimble bass work that defines key tracks on Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar albums – amongst a slew of other studio work that ranges from Erykah Badu to Suicidal Tendencies – but over the past few years he has made some great strides in his solo work. Drunk, his latest release, opens with an enticing proposition: “Let’s go hard, get drunk, and travel down a rabbit hole.” While that may sound like typical party swagger, Thundercat clutches that rabbit hole, that escape from the world, and turns it into something unique.

What makes Drunk so appealing is Thundercat’s unorthodox and deeply personal approach to creating music. Quicksilver basslines are, expectedly, strewn across every song and act both as a rhythmic anchor and melodic guide depending on the situation. His vocals are frequently light and airy, a psychedelic waft of stream of consciousness lyrics about anything from police brutality to the joys of being a cat, toeing the line between the serious and the goofy and somehow ending up everywhere in between. They breeze through a cool night’s sky of smooth rhythms, jazzy chords, and soft rock “oohs” and “aahs”.

In the wrong hands, these sometimes abrupt emotional changes could come off as disingenuous, but Thundercat approaches each topic in an honest, enthusiastic, and usually funny way. This is no more apparent than the trio of “Blackkk”, “Tokyo”, and “Jameel’s Space Ride”. Musically, the songs are rather similar as they all bounce around like hyperactive video game soundtracks – all cheery synths with light drum machine flourishes.

Stuck between the two, “Tokyo” ridge races along like a vintage, 16-bit SNES tune with goofy, borderline braggadocios lyrics. Lines like “Gonna eat so much fish I think I’m gonna be sick/ Gonna blow all my cash on anime/ Don’t try to stop me because I’m over 9000/ Just point me to the pachinko machines” are goofy and delirious – you can’t help but be charmed.

“Blackkk”, on the other hand, invites the listener to “travel through the light… take me to the highest mountain… don’t be afraid of death/ we’ll be gone in the twinkle of an eye.” “Jameel’s Space Ride” initially brings up a similar mood with Thundercat lamenting that “I want to go right/ I’m safe on my block/ Except for the cops/ Will they attack?” before going into a cosmic “I want to fly away off into space and into the sun/ With all those spirits and space dust and aliens/ Where we belong” which is then sold by a delightful “FUCK YEAH!”

There’s a strong sense of this duality that really manifests itself throughout the album. On “Friend Zone”, Thundercat decries a failed relationship with a “I’d rather play Mortal Kombat anyway” while “Them Changes” continues the theme with a more direct response over funky Moogs: “Somebody tell me how I’m supposed to feel/ When I’m sitting here knowing this ain’t real/ Why in the world would I give my heart to you?” Despite the fun lyrics that bubble over, there is a deep undercurrent of spirituality and self-awareness that runs under the surface.

“Show You the Way”, the album’s centerpiece single, features the holy combo of Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. No strangers to each other, Loggins and McDonald instantly gel amongst Thundercat’s velvety beats. McDonald’s deep and booming voice is a show stealer – his husky tone implores the listener to “wake up and dream/ tear down the wall of all you believe that might not be true.” That’s not to discredit Loggins whose helium vocals actually blend and harmonize rather nicely with Thundercat’s equally high, but significantly airier voice. For a man known predominantly for his bass work, it’s impressive to hear Thundercat hold his own against two of soft rock’s greatest vocal luminaries.

Speaking of features, “Walk On By” is dominated by an excellent appearance from Kendrick Lamar. It’s a step away from the theatrical nature of To Pimp a Butterfly, transporting the vibes into Thundercat’s bedroom via a grainy drum machine and soft, whispered vocals. Lamar’s verse is smooth and gently eases itself into its subdued surroundings while still managing to drop some fire – more proof that he is one of the greats.

A heady concoction that lives up to its name, Drunk feels more like hanging out with an old friend, smoking some joints, having some drinks, and talking about whatever comes to mind: the good, the bad, and the surreal. Thundercat’s endless charm really holds Drunk together. Dude is smart and he knows it; by keeping one side of his brain in reality and the other in the clouds, he has created an album that never takes itself too seriously, but knows when and how to push the envelope spiritually.

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