Thundercat’s Drunk begins with a mash up of 70s and 2010s funk; with chord progression we know and love from the 70s paired with the videogame-like sounds we hear today. With one of the first lines of the album being, “friends they come and go / that’s okay I’m kind of bored,” one can sense the tongue-in-cheek humor that will be peppered throughout the project. Admittedly I felt a bit weird myself at the beginning of the second track of the album “Captain Stupido,” which begins with “I feel weird / comb your beard, brush your teeth,” lyrics that don’t really make sense on one’s first listen of the album. It isn’t until you’ve listened through a few of the songs that you realize the image Thundercat is trying to convey is one of himself, and that the album is a soulful, somber, sometimes silly recollection of his experiences and ideas.
The production and instrumentation on Drunk is exceedingly impressive, and it is immediately apparent when transitioning from the second track to the third, “Uh Uh.” The song begins with some spacey vibes, but doesn’t even allow you to think before it jumps into some complicated and beautiful funk bass, drums, and piano, reminiscent of Outkast’s “My Favorite Things.” Knowing that Thundercat is the lead bassist throughout the entire album simply adds to my appreciation for what he is doing with this project. Thundercat’s ability to recall sounds from past generations and make them seem brand new is a testament to his talent as an artist. “Bus in These Streets,” is the epitome of modern soul, sounding like something out of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s handbook juxtaposed with quips like “from the minute I wake up I’m staring at the screen / watching the world go insane,” making the song sound like some wholesome millennial existentialism.
Each track’s length averages to around two and a half minutes long, with the longest song being “Inferno” at four minutes. The short and sweet approach to the tracks emphasizes the idea that these are all just meandering thoughts from Thundercat, who is giving us small glimpses into his seemingly fleeting mind. Tracks such as “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song II)” which has Thundercat meowing, and pondering what its like to live as a cat, are followed closely by “Lava Lamp,” and “Jethro,” two tracks that deal with themes of death. Thundercat’s presentation of a variety of topics shows the versatility of a genre that may be considered stagnant, with repeating themes of romance. He goes back to the roots of the genre with the smooth, silky, “Show You the Way,” which features soul music legends Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, and then switches it up again, putting Kendrick Lamar on a chiptune-inspired beat with “Walk on By.”
“Tokyo” is a track that really exemplifies Thundercat’s ability to make atmospheric music while not really taking himself too seriously. One would be hard-pressed to find another funk or soul artist singing beautifully about anime (specifically Dragon Ball Z), and for me it makes Drunk even more exciting. The beginning of this track makes me feel like I am with Thundercat in Tokyo, taking in the neon lights and bustling nightlife; or as if I am playing an old Sega Genesis game with its twinkly 8bit-influenced sounds. The chiptune production continues with “Jameel’s Space Ride,” a song that deals with themes of racism and police brutality, a fact that just exudes “accessibility” by being able to represent listeners that may be interested in video game culture, and concerned with the ongoing surge of civil rights activism. The flexibility of Drunk makes the listening experience unique and quite unpredictable, like Thundercat himself.
What is predictable, however, is how Thundercat is going to sound vocally on each of the tracks. Thundercat’s falsetto is impressive to say the very least, but after a full listen I am left longing for variety in his singing. While the album is 51 minutes long, at times the songs sound like they are all just part of one big track, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just makes the album feel shorter and less diverse musically. His voice fits his genre perfectly, and there is really no need for experimentation with things like auto-tune, but I’d like to see more of Thundercat’s range in future projects. The falsetto is already remarkable, so lets see Thundercat explore some different sounds like he does themes throughout the album.
Drunk takes the listener on an adventure through the mind of Thundercat, and ultimately ends where it began, with “DUI” using the same melody as “Rabbot Ho.” The track serves as a conclusion, but also allows the album to come full circle if it is put on repeat, which speaks to Thundercat’s ongoing contemplations about life and death. Drunk is an album by an artist who is very self-aware, and is able to push the boundaries of his art without the pretentiousness of some of his contemporaries. This awareness is evident in the final lines of the album, “One more glass to go / where this ends we’ll never know,” which is directly related to the first line “When it rains it pours” and gives the listener an idea of Thundercat’s drunkenness, whether he is drunk on alcohol, or as the album implies, on life itself.