Though it’s been out digitally for almost a month, Thundercat‘s Drunk recently arrived in the physical world. Pressed on four red 10″, the bebop-heavy jazz/hip hop fusion album pays homage to the early Blue Note jazz series (featuring Kansas City’s own Charlie Parker) while connecting with the aesthetics of contemporary jazz releases (think Jazz Dispensary or Kamasi Washington‘s The Epic). Lyrically, the album pokes fun at social media, rap culture, and the self-seriousness that pervades artistry of all varieties; instrumentally, Drunk is more daring than Thundercat’s previous releases.
Drunk begins with a slew of interconnected sketches. “Rabbot Ho,” “Captain Stupido,” and “Uh Uh” seem to emanate from the same character–one who seems more concerned about living a life proscribed by pop culture than finding their own expressions. And then “Bus In These Streets” adds a twist to the character/tone of the album. The fourth track bubbles with twinkling piano lines and falsetto. Concerned with oversharers on social media, “Bus In These Streets” throws a hard Beach Boys meets Moondog vibe–a combination that is perfectly sublime.
Throughout Drunk, Thundercat finds a unique balance between quick-stepping bass lines and ethereal textures. The 10″ boxset never feels glacial nor does it unravel with speed. Given this bass genius constructed the album almost entirely of songs under four minutes, the control Thundercat demonstrates in pacing and cohesion is ever impressive. Whereas Kamasi Washington’s album used length to wash progressions into each other, Thundercat uses implication and tone to fit his post-modern snapshots together.
The album’s single “Friend Zone” straddles the line between trolling and parodying the ridiculousness of its namesake. The funky grooves add a nice juxtaposition between what must be satirical lyrics, which capture in action the “nice guy syndrome,” “gamer” misogyny, and other predatory attitudes lauded in popular culture. Given the album’s conceit (drunk character studies), “Friend Zone” seems to place, contextually, these attitudes in a negative space–and with a groove like it’s got, how can you argue?
Drunk, like the riffs it’s built from, jumps from speaker to speaker. Sometimes these characters resurface and their stories are complicated, but more often the album drifts associative between like minded individuals. Thundercat’s Drunk spins like the aural equivalent of Finnegans Wake or Shelley Jackson’s Melancholy of Anatomy. Conceptually, the album does a lot to back its music with interesting narratives and weird lyrical drifts.
While the 23 track album has songs that standout, Drunk‘s power seems to lie within its accretion. Thundercat seems to have engineered the album to be a cohesive unit rather than a collection of tracks. For this reason it is hard to extricate individual songs. The seamlessness that Thundercat has achieved is something I have not heard in a new release in some time, proving the bassist is at the top of his and the game.