Photo Credit: Brainfeeder
On the song “Nights,” from last year’s Blonde, Frank Ocean dropped some cutting edge knowledge on how the dynamic between sober and intoxicated lifestyles works: “Every night f**** every day up/ Every day patches the night up.” These nights can be hilarious, frightening, disorienting and heartbreaking – sometimes all at once. It’s all too relatable for many college students and other young adults who routinely make poor or unhealthy decisions on the weekends after being diligent, model students during the school week.
On Stephen Bruner’s newest album as Thundercat, the aptly titled Drunk, the man born Stephen Bruner examines that state of mind as his night progresses from sober optimism to inebriate paranoia and disappointment.
The record is as schizophrenic and inattentive as a man on ecstasy (recalling Thundercat’s breakthrough “Oh Sheit It’s X”), with its 23 tracks spanning a tight 51 minutes. (Only about half of these tracks are full-fledged songs.) If you’re familiar with the Brainfeeder record label that Drunk is being distributed on, you’ll immediately recognize the jazz fusion revival that we’ve seen from artists like Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington – but this time, Thundercat has embraced the soft rock and soul music of the ’70s and ’80s, making this Brainfeeder’s most accessible release.
Drunk gets off to a chaotic start, with the double-time tempo of “Captain Stupido” imagining a hangover after a night gone sour. “I feel weird … I think I left my wallet at the club … Jesus take the wheel,” Thundercat pines, getting ready to head out again. The following “Uh Uh” is a pure jazz instrumental, evoking feelings of the whirlwind pre-gaming that’s done before hitting the bars; once the radio jingle “Bus In These Streets” rolls around, he’s back on his way to the club.
At this point, Thundercat’s pretty impaired, and we see that through his inability to focus on any one topic for a few minutes at a time. “A Fan’s Mail,” “Lava Lamp” and “Jethro” all deal with mortality; the former talks about the death of Thundercat’s beloved pet cat. This sort of black humor is a major recurring theme within Brainfeeder’s releases, and Drunk is the funniest record in recent memory – a self-aware romp about how self-serious we all become when we’re intoxicated.
After dealing with his demons through his fear of death, Thundercat moves to something far more immediate: love. The lovely “Show You The Way,” featuring ’70s soft rock greats Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, is Thundercat trying to convince a girl that her start is struggling, and that he has the solution.
Unfortunately, as it frequently goes, his advances aren’t taken well. Thundercat realizes this on “Walk On By” as he sings “I need to know why I act this way; no one wants to drink alone, but that’s how it goes.” (The song also features an awesome and hilarious verse from Kendrick Lamar; Thundercat was featured prominently on Lamar’s opus To Pimp A Butterfly.)
It all comes to a head on the gargantuan doubleheader of “Friend Zone” and “Them Changes.” Thundercat is riotous on the former, where he sings about rejection: “I’m your biggest fan, but I guess that’s just not good enough/ Don’t call me or text me after 2 a.m./ Unless you’re planning on giving me some.” The song is so childish and ridiculous that I legitimately laughed out loud the first time I heard it; our drunk minds seem to take things really personally, and Thundercat’s accurate portrayal of the inebriated mind makes the record relatable.
“Them Changes,” with its thundering bass groove and passionate vocals, is Thundercat turning the melodrama up even further. “Nobody move, there’s blood on the floor/ And I can’t find my heart,” he sings, stopping the party and making a scene just because he was rejected. Afterwards, he finally gathers himself enough to just party for the rest of the night, but the damage is done.
While the album’s themes and lyrics are hilariously relatable, and the music is always pleasant, Thundercat leaves a lot to be desired as a vocalist. His soft, airy falsetto is great for the themes of psychedelia that he tries to promote, but he is completely overshadowed by Loggins and McDonald as well as Pharrell on “The Turn Down.” I also wish Thundercat would’ve experimented a little bit more; for someone who cut his teeth as a bass virtuoso, Drunk’s music is very safe and one-note. Maybe that was intentional in an attempt to match the pleasant overall feeling of being drunk, but it doesn’t always make for exhilarating listening.
The album’s closer, “DUI,” shows Thundercat as last call at the club is being served; “Bottom of the glass/ At this point you’ve made an ass/ And your friends will let you know tomorrow,” sounds uncomfortably real. But there’s a moment of hope within the darkness of a night gone wrong: “There’s always tomorrow.” Then, when Drunk restarts, you realize that the melodies of the album’s opener and closer are the same; the cycle continues, with no end in sight.