New Grooves: “Drunk”

Stephen Bruner released his third LP, “Drunk,” Friday. It’s a fresh batch of varied R&B “atmospheres” by a skilled multi-instrumentalist popularly known by the name Thundercat.

The album fills up what has become the checklist for an authentic Thundercat record:

  • rivals NoName’s precision and dexterity with thick vocal layers
  • rivals J.S. Bach’s compositional balance and innovation
  • pushes funk bass into the 21st century
  • grooves its tail off
  • talks about cats

Thundercat sounds like one of the most digitally advanced funk artists on the map. Even the name alludes to a time in history where felines are celebrated as an “end to a means.” Why shouldn’t such an artist of the Tumblr culture be fetishizing cats a bit?

I first heard his name on the collaboration list for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. In fact the artist works prolifically with Lamar as well as Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu and on collaborations as diverse as Mac Miller, jazz star Taylor McFerrin, and crossover thrash band Suicidal Thoughts.

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However, in his own composition, Bruner is mostly in the harmonic world of 20th century jazz-fusion. Like others, he is an artist at the old art form that was “fusion funk,” and he uses it to launch into the new galaxy of funk and jazz music.

Only one Drunk track hits the 4 minute mark, while tracks such as “Rabbot Ho,” “Day&Night,” and “I Am Crazy” clock in at under one minute. “Drunk” is a story told almost exclusively in short-form episodes. The album often channel surfs from one song to the next, a bit like a J. Dilla record.

“Drunk” has that same “Oh shit, I’m a duck!” sense of humor in the lyrics, this time making off-the-wall allusions to “The Aristocats” and “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” I forgot, until “A Fan’s Mail” reminded all of us, how much this iconic scene from “The Aristocats” draws from trippy late 60s art house cinema like “Daisies” or “Psych-Out.”

“Walk On By” has a surprisingly cell phone ring-sounding beat, and in fact it goes perfectly under Thundercat’s soaring vocal line, wild synth effects, and swirling bass line. Kendrick Lamar makes an appearance (like he does on every damn album I try to cover) and as always, it’s a masterful verse.

Thundercat has been evaluated as “punk,” among other things, and interestingly enough we get a nod to Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8tr Boi” from Track 12: “Tokyo.” The album is filled with sounds of the future, especially on “Friend Zone.”

“DUI” closes the album with a full on Thundercat-style ballad, with one of the most beautiful synthesizer solos from any track the 33-year-old’s discography. The Thunder will strike New York this Friday at Irving Plaza; based on previous tours, his show should be a rrrrrrrrriot.

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