In discussion of balancing humour and social awareness, Stephen Bruner recently told an interviewer that “You’ve gotta laugh to keep from crying,” going on to describe the struggle of coping as a black man in America. On his third Thundercat album, Bruner deploys a bizarre and dark sense of humour, one that indulges in surreal fun while exploring the anxieties that bubble underneath in his everyday life.
Drunk – which crams 23 tracks into 51 minutes – ricochets between moods, reflecting an intoxicated mind. But beyond the oddities of Bruner’s slippery thought processes, the interjections of ‘meows’ and other bodily noises, the way in which Bruner presents himself on the album is ultimately thoughtful, honest, and somewhat sobering.
Musings on existence and mortality are nothing new for Thundercat. Take 2015’s The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam EP for example – a mesmeric and stripped-back contemplation on death and whatever lies thereafter. On Drunk, however, he seems more grounded in the present. In the first part of the album we’re in a lighter place, with the shimmering cosmic melodies of A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II) or the smooth and psychedelic Show You The Way (featuring iconic soft rockers Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald). But as the album veers into its latter half, Bruner’s basslines slog and stumble, sinking a little under the acquired gravity of being being lost, drunk and numb. Still, in the face of cops attacking on Jameel’s Space Ride, or hiding in Japan’s ‘suicide forest’ after getting someone pregnant in Tokyo, Bruner is still – just about – grinning.
As ever, Bruner’s soft, airy vocals blend together the various excursions into spacey, free-floating jazz, rhythmic funk, and slow and sultry RnB. Sure, there’s his musical partner Flying Lotus on mixing and production duties, and there’s seamlessly high profile features from Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, and Wiz Khalifa. But this is Bruner’s boldest release, and it finds him at his most exposed. On Drunk, you are grabbed by the ankles and pulled into the rabbit hole of Bruner’s mind. It’s a dizzying ride.