Release Date: Feb 24, 2017
Record label: Brainfeeder
Genre(s): R&B, Alternative R&B
Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner, is at quite a pivotal moment in his solo career. After years of notable solo and collaboration work, he's grown a cult audience across the world, getting bigger and better with everything he's touched. There has never been any doubt over his musical ability, ever since his wider introduction to the hip-hop/indie/electronic music conscious with his work on Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Parts One and Two and Flying Lotus' Cosmogramma, in 2008 and 2010 respectivelyt.
In the four years since Stephen Bruner (aka Thundercat), released his last long-player, Apocalypse, he's become an in-demand session bass player, guesting on over a dozen albums including already-classics such as Flying Lotus's You're Dead!, Kamasi Washington's The Epic and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly. On his latest album, Drunk, Bruner has expertly used these hustling years to grow his ever-advancing craft, allowing freewheeling collaborations with Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, Pharrell, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins to come off impeccably and seamlessly woven from the same sonic cloth. Although his past few releases have parenthetically employed guest musicians, Drunk finds Bruner bringing many of these collaborations front and centre, as he seemingly absorbs their unique personalities, giving the listener some of the most varied, inventive and enjoyable Thundercat material to date.
"I feel weird," sings Stephen Bruner, AKA Thundercat, on "Captain Stupido," the second song on his fourth album, Drunk. He suggests some coping strategies to himself--"beat your meat, go to sleep." In the casual language of a Seth Rogen film, Drunk consults a teenager's self-help guide for overcoming unease. Get high. Watch anime.
Forgiving the metaphor, it's as if Thundercat was a flower, expanding to this moment. He's been in waiting to bloom for years, serving as an essential ally to electronic adventurer Flying Lotus, the two seeming so like-minded as to appear as musical bff's, appearing on essentially any project involving the other. As Lotus ascended into worldwide focus, Thundercat - given name Stephen Bruner - remained more low key, releasing the excellent, if understated, Apocalypse in 2013.
Thundercat gives himself a pep talk at the beginning of Drunk : "Comb your beard, brush your teeth … beat your meat, go to sleep." At least he's in marginally better spirits these days. Following the death of his friend and collaborator Austin Peralta , his last two releases--2013's Apocalypse and 2015's The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam -- explored the concept of extinction and what the spirit might endure when the body expires. On these records--along with Flying Lotus ' 2014 album You're Dead! , where Thundercat contributed bass or vocals to many of its songs--the singer and preeminent bassist (born Stephen Bruner) tried to make sense of a devastating truth.
Music like Thundercat's doesn't feel like it should be real. There's an effortless smoothness to its complexities, an otherworldliness to its humanity. He's the sort of singer and player whose songs seem to come into existence on the spot. They're so intuitively musical that it's hard to see them as the result of much planning, despite the fact that the rhythms and hooks on Drunk take a virtuoso to pull off.
While bassist Thundercat has been responsible for the nimble low-end of albums by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu and Flying Lotus, and has become a must-see, blistering live draw in his own right, his solo work to date has been somewhat easier to admire than love. Drunk changes things. It's an impossible-to-second-guess album that veers between sounding as if Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren had been drafted by George Clinton to steer the mothership, hyperactive bass explorations, blissed out Innervisions-sounding squelchy slow jams and, errr, cosmic R&B-meets-yacht rock (the Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins-starring Show Me The Way).
Drunk is imperfect and messy, and quite long, but astonishing. The most delicious moments of pop are scattered amongst off kilter bass noodeling or cheesy synth squiggles. One minute you can be floating with a fantastic slice of 80s-influenced pop, the next you're stumbling through a bass onslaught, emerging sweaty and discombobulated, at which point Bruner might drop another polished hit like "Them Changes", before wobbling off again on some other mad tangent.
G rammy award-winning bassist and singer Thundercat is joined by Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams, Kamasi Washington, Wiz Khalifa, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins on his third full-length album. Over this 23-track epic, Thundercat weaves emotional yet darkly humorous tales of alcohol dependency and heartbreak through mesmeric bass improvisations and soft vocal harmonies. There are many funk-fuelled highlights, including Them Changes, taken from his 2015 release The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam, and the catchy Friend Zone: "Don't call me, don't text me, after 2am/ Unless you plan on giving me some".
N ow that sun-squelched jazz is having a mainstream moment - thanks in part to Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly - Flying Lotus's cosmic sidekick sets out his stall in vivid high-definition. Thundercat's 23-track third album, Drunk, takes you down a rabbit hole and turfs you out in his lopsided wonderland of funk, soul, hip-hop and soft rock, with guest characters including Lamar, Pharrell, saxophonist Kamasi Washington and Wiz Khalifa. It's an eccentric, surreal and oddly hypnotic listen - most of it, he has said, inspired by the times he's been less than sober.
Thundercat was never going to exist in the background for long. His father drummed for both The Temptations and Diana Ross, and when Stephen Bruner started on his own path as a session bass player in LA he was hard to ignore, wearing a helmet and colourful shoulder pads to perform with the likes of Suicidal Tendencies and Erykah Badu. His vibrant wardrobe, dark humour and love of obscure South Korean movies attracted Flying Lotus, who signed him six years ago.
Wolfskin-wearing, six string-bass-bothering Los Angeleno Stephen Bruner has played with everyone from thrash metallers Suicidal Tendencies to Kendrick Lamar, George Clinton and (most consistently) Flying Lotus. His own solo work is as unpredictable as that list of collaborators suggests, full of jazz, fruitloop electronics, soft rock and funk. His last lengthy LP, 2013's 'Apocalypse', was surprisingly accessible (follow-up 'The Beyond/The Giants Roam' was released in 2015, but was only 16-minutes long), but here, he's gone all-in on freaky psychedelic soul.
A virtuoso musician largely without peer, Stephen Bruner (aka Thundercat) here positions himself as a post-modern, 21st century R&B Frank Zappa for the millennial crowd. Rather than fully-realized songs in the traditional sense, Bruner delivers with Drunk a series of musical sketches ranging from the relatively straightforward to the intricately complex (see "Uh Uh" with its decidedly Zappa-esque flourishes). Depending on your attention span, this is either a godsend or a maddeningly scattershot approach to songwriting.
Between Apocalypse and Drunk, his second and third albums, bassist Stephen Bruner contributed to a slew of remarkable recordings by fellow Los Angeles dwellers -- Flying Lotus' You're Dead!, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly and Untitled Unmastered, Kamasi Washington's The Epic, and Terrace Martin's Velvet Portraits among them. Several months before Bruner picked up a Grammy for "These Walls," off To Pimp a Butterfly, he issued an EP anchored by "Them Changes. " His funkiest, sweetest, most vulnerable song, it reappears as the top highlight on Drunk, a fragmentary and scattered program relative to the Thundercat full-lengths that preceded it.
A weekly roundup of must-hear music from The Times' music staff. This week's picks include the latest from beloved, funk-leaning local star Thundercat, as well as works from Ella Mai, José James and Guy Clark. Thundercat, "Drunk" (Brainfeeder) Although the artist's primary instrument is the electric bass, he's not the kind to rely on your standard four-string variety.
Thundercat -- aka Stephen Bruner -- is one of the most in-demand bassists in the Los Angeles studio scene, a collaborator with hip-hop giant Kendrick Lamar, electronic innovator Flying Lotus, jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington and neo-soul pioneer Erykah Badu, among others. Each of his solo albums reflects that musical range, and "Drunk" (Brainfeeder) crams 23 songs and snippets into 51 minutes that evoke the sumptuous jazz-infused R&B of the '70s, filtered through catchy melodies, undergirded by virtuoso musicianship and salted with conflicting emotions. Earth Wind & Fire flashbacks emerge, though Thundercat's lyrics are quite a bit less cosmic and uplifting than Maurice White's.
The skinny version: Drunk continues Thundercat’s slow ascent; his most ambitious work yet, one that wants you take it as a whole so you can experience getting drunk alongside Thundercat and stumble through the streets at 3 AM. Think: “Oh Sheit It’s X” in album form. And I do mean slow ascent. While I love it whenever Thundercat’s distinctive vocals or distinguished bass playing graces another album — ie.
In the last several years, Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner has proven himself an invaluable player in LA's genre-busting musical ferment, lending his gleefully showy bass playing to everyone from Erykah Badu to Suicidal Tendencies to his tight bro/regular collaborator Flying Lotus. He's a remarkably dextrous player, somehow angular and liquid at once, a shameless callback to Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke even as his stage presence more closely recalls that of Bootsy Collins. He also has a goofy, absurdist sense of humour, as evidenced by collaborations with Eric Andre that are among both of their best work.