Stephen Bruner AKA Thundercat is a funk, jazz-fusion, and soul artist from Los Angeles. This album is his fourth solo album, but you may know him from some of his feature appearances on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and Untitled, Unmastered, Flying Lotus’s Cosmogramma, You’re Dead and Before the Quiet Comes, and Kamasi Washington’s The Epic–to name a few. Thundercat has a unique style of playing a six string bass (Way better than robot Hannibal Buress) and his falsetto vocals. Overall, if you look at Thundercat’s discography, songs like “Oh Sheit it’s X” show his more humorous side, but with this album, fun really is the main motivation and almost all of the songs on the record have humor (More on that later).
Anticipating this record, there were four singles that released before the entire album dropped: “Bus in the Streets,” “Show You the Way,” “Friend Zone,” and “Walk On By.”
“Bus in the Streets (Feat. Louis Cole)”: I can only imagine that Bruner got really high one day and then lost his phone then made a song about it. The song seems like a period piece of 70’s and 80’s R&B, which is a greater departure from his usual style. Within the context of this album, this song seems to be one of the most unusual tracks, because it sounds nothing like most of the songs on the record.
“Show You the Way (Feat. Flying Lotus, Michael McDonald, and Kenny Loggins)”: Where do I start with this song? I thought that Michael McDonald was Michael Bolton until I just looked it up. That being said, I think that the fact that this song is intentionally as smooth and funky as possible while having extremely uncharacteristic features by two separate smooth 80’s R&B stars Michael “27th Annual Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals winner” McDonald and Kenny “Danger Zone” Loggins is pretty impressive. I think this song was most inspired by the Doobie Brothers’s “What A Fool Believes”, but the song is just trying to be as fun as possible, even if the features are used only shortly. At the end of this song there’s an aside that I really love from Thundercat where he says, “Hey, how’s it going? This is your boy, Thundercat. If you’re going to fill your water bottle with vodka, always make sure you have a friend with a bottle that actually has water,” which is a direct allusion to people who sneak vodka into music festivals by sealing the cap of the bottle using a lighter.
“Friend Zone” is Thundercat’s third released single in anticipation for this album and it is my favorite song on the entire album. It’s the only single not to have a feature. I listened to the song for two days straight after it was released and I am absolutely proud of that. The scaled synths that are featured throughout the entire album really make the song spacey, yet the funky bass lines and the simple, punchy beat throughout keeps the song grounded. Bruner’s falsetto voice flows throughout the song along with the harmonies in the chorus and this really ties this song together in a great way. Most of all, the lyrics on this song are amazing. With allusions to Kendrick Lamar through lines like, “B*tch don’t kill my vibe,” or lyrics like, “I’d rather play Mortal Kombat anyway,” really drive home Bruner’s analysis of the friend zone.
The last single to be released was “Walk on By (Feat. Kendrick Lamar),” which is a very low-energy slow song that is about drinking alone. There is a very soft, very uneventful beat which is accompanied by some spacey piano chords and a distant bass line, but that all seems intentional due to the subject matter of this song. Bruner is talking about how his girlfriend just walked away from him, and he’s going over the lines she said while drinking alone. This is accompanied by Kendrick Lamar’s verse about accidentally killing a veteran. Kendrick has an amazingly written verse in this song, and I suggest you check it out.
Thundercat sums up his experience with Kendrick Lamar in this quote, “I had recorded the idea, and a lot of the times I bounce things off of Kenny – “Hey, man, check this out” – no matter if there were lyrics or it was just an idea. I sent him the song with the intent of finding out what he’d think or feel about it, and I forget what point it turned into a song that was gonna be on the album, but he added what he felt went to it. He was totally into the idea. He’s always been attuned to the messages I’m conveying. He took to it very quickly, and I appreciated him for that […] It’s just weird, because I don’t expect anyone to do anything like that for me. It was very difficult for me to process the part where he was very open to it. At the same time, I feel like the song tells a story now because he got involved with it.”
This album is funny, it is by no means a comedy album, but you can definitely see Thundercat’s goofy sense of humor (which he at times is showcased in interviews, he’s just a goofy dude). Prime examples of this humor are songs like a reprise of his song, “Tron Song,” where he talks about being a cat, or songs like, “Tokyo,” which is just about walking around Tokyo drunk and watching anime. Along with some goofiness, this album gets pretty dark at times. Some of the songs are about drinking alone, being disoriented and not knowing where you’re going, and the trade-off you may get within the context of getting drunk. Throughout the album, Thundercat really explores every side to what being drunk and having experiences with alcohol entails. In the first song, “Rabbot Ho,” Thundercat started the entire drunken adventure by saying, “Let’s go hard, get drunk, and travel down a rabbit hole,” which he then book-ends with the song “DUI,” which has the same instrumentation, just with different lyrics. “DUI” serves as a stark reminder that this adventure seems circular and this entire night, every experience good and bad, will repeat itself the next day
This entire album has the same feel as most of Thundercat’s older work, but more developed and mature. You can tell that this album is more inspired by late 70’s/80’s R&B than previous works. Along with that, Thundercat involved more hip-hop than previous works, with songs like “Drink Dat.” Otherwise, this album is a great return to form for Thundercat The bass in each song is superb, and each song creatively uses a mixture of synths and beats to change up the style of each song. If you’re going to listen to this album prepare to groove because this album is funky, and Thundercat is a master of his craft when it comes to playing the bass.
I love this album, but I still have two of problems with the entirety. One of Thundercat’s most popular songs is “Them Changes (Feat. Flying Lotus & Kamasi Washington).” On Spotify (As of right now 2/25/2017 when I wrote this paragraph) the song has almost 10 million more listens than any of his other songs. “Them Changes” also came out in 2015. Given all of that information, I have one question: Why is that song on this album? Don’t get me wrong, I like the song a lot, I’m just confused. I looked at the track listing as soon as it came out, and I saw the song, “Them Changes,” and it’s the exact same as the song released two years ago, with no differences. If someone wants to explain this to me, I would be happy to talk about it, my email is email@example.com–feel free to email me your own theory of why the song was included. The other gripe I have with this album is that some songs sound like Flying Lotus songs to an almost suspicious degree. This is most apparent in the song, “Inferno,” where the song had the same exact violin portion from Flying Lotus’s “Zodiac Sh*t” and the same exact devil laughing sample that’s in the Flying Lotus song, “Dead Man’s Tetris.” I understand that Flying Lotus and Thundercat are really good friends, I understand that Flying Lotus was listed as a feature on this song, I understand Thundercat said, “Yeah, me and FlyLo have worked together for almost a decade and we’ve been side-by-side the whole time,” I also understand that this can be an allusion to some of FlyLo’s previous work, but it doesn’t make it right.
Overall, I really liked this album. This album has a lot of songs (23 to be exact), but it contains a lot of interludes and shorter songs so the album is 51 minutes. Mostly, it seems like Thundercat had a lot of fun making this record and I think that’s probably the most important thing about it. I would recommend you to put the record on your turntable, and just space out on a great drunken adventure.
Favorite Tracks: Friend Zone, Tokyo, Them Changes (WHY?!?)
Least Favorite Tracks: Captain Stupido, Blackkk