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.
The upward trend for Thundercat seemed to begin in earnest with a show-stopping moment: To Pimp a Butterfly. It may have been Kendrick Lamar's tour-de-force, but a year-defining album has a way of boosting all its players, and Thundercat certainly seemed to emerge the most championed. Even Lamar himself consistently acknowledged Bruner's indispensable contributions to the album's sound.
Catching the moment was imperative, and Thundercat soon returned with Giants, a calculated gesture. Rather than rush to record a full album, he gave himself room to breathe with an EP that was so immediate and focused that it left the impression of a larger body of work. In short, he bought himself the time to dream up Drunk.
He hasn't lost a step, returning with an album that reminds of Lotus in its sprawling, rapidly transitioning 23-song tracklist. There is little else to compare, here, Thundercat – already a musical wunderkind – truly grows into his own as a presence. Whereas his past music was more ideas, science fiction jargon and ambiguous emotions, Drunk has a clearly defined character within its music, the black nerd just trying to find his place, and (perhaps moreover) his sense of cool, journeys throughout its songs. Even as the likes of Kendrick, Pharrell, and, regrettably, a typically comatose Wiz Khalifa venture through, the album remains definitively Thundercat's. Even as cheeze-legends Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins pop in, their presence is a pleasant bonus, yet fleeting, and matters instantly revolve back around to the man running the show.
From nearly the get-go, with the closing lines of ‘Captain Stupido’, “I think I left my wallet at the club,” the stage is set. Like the best concept albums, Drunk follows its conceit loosely, but gently seems to revolve around the emotions of a single, drunken evening.
Much like any evening of too much elation, events unfold randomly for the majority of the trip, a narrator's thoughts drifting from the random into memory and back. Apocalypse's ‘Tron Song’ receives a hilarious 'sequel' as ‘Fan Mail (Tron Song Suite II)’ chooses to goofily revolve around cats. By contrast, ‘Tokyo’ sheds light on his inner-nerd, jumping from nostalgia for both a trip and, moreover, Gundam and DragonBall Z, all the while, Thundercat cleverly lumping in a dark 'drift into the beat and you missed it' asides such as, “It was premeditated, tried to get someone pregnant / It wasn't her fault, I'm just kind of psychotic.”
In fact, lurking just beneath the eased groove of the album is a general malaise, a clear existential confusion that's both relatable and surprising beneath the warm exterior of the album. Therein lies Drunk's true victory, offering its listener both solace and sunny vibes in its immediate presentation, and rewarding the focused observer with ruminations befitting a night of drinking that led to self-examination rather than glee. Regardless of what you're looking for, Thundercat is ready to serve you. Drink up.