The bass guitar is a more powerful and influential instrument than one would think. John Entwistle helped start rock and roll with his ending bass solo on “My Generation,” Bernard Odom gave James Brown the bounce on “Cold Sweat,” Lemmy Kilmister made his bass as forceful as an army tank on everything Motorhead ever made, Bootsy Collins invented funk (James Brown, Parliament, Funkadelic, solo, take your pick), and it’s hard to find anyone to plays with the speed and success as Flea. Even today, the bass is more prominent than ever before with dance music and hip-hop practically dominating the pop charts. But the bass has become more industrialized as of late, but someone who still manages to find the fun and funk of the bass is Thundercat.
The L.A. native has been building his resume as the go-to guy for chilled out bass grooves. The likes of Mac Miller, Childish Gambino, Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu, Vic Mensa, Kamasi Washington and more notably, Kendrick Lamar (who he won a Grammy with for Lamar’s “These Walls”) have all received the Thundercat touch. But what makes him special is his embrace of the heartfelt goofiness that comes with R&B. His sense of humor in his lyrics compliment the relaxed vibe and impressive musicianship he brings to the music. It’s like cruising through Los Angeles on a sun-soaked afternoon stoned with your buddies while Earth, Wind, and Fire are playing over the radio. In short, silly and sublime.
In a shorter word, it’s Drunk, Thundercat’s third solo album. Co-produced by Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Sounwave (Kendrick Lamar), and Mono/Poly (Ne-Yo), the album is relaxed and smooth without sounding polished. A mixture of low-fi hip-hop and Thundercat’s jazz-R&B hybrid, Drunk uses lush background harmonies and spacey synthesizers to set the mood for songs like “Lava Lamp” and “Show You the Way.” He flexes his dexterity on faster cuts like “Tokyo,” “Uh Uh,” and “Where I’m Going,” but the album mostly stays on the laid back grooves of “Friend Zone,” “Them Changes,” and the title track. Thundercat’s bass, dipped in low, spacey effects mesh well with his falsetto and lower background melodies on “Captain Stupido” and “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song II).” To add to that background smoothness, he even invites Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins on “Show You the Way” to turn it into something for closing time at the local roller rink. It is a shame that Thundercat doesn’t truly get to cut loose, even with the presence of Kendrick Lamar on “Walk On By” and the misplaced presence of Wiz Khalifa on “Drink Dat.”
Drunk is not exactly an album to inspire progress, but more of a slackers driving music. “Captain Stupido” has Thundercat frankly realizing the banality of everyday life (“I feel weird/Comb your beard, brush your teeth/Still feel weird/Beat your meat, go to sleep”) while “Friend Zone” has him use humor to ask why he ended up in the place all horny single guys dread (“I’m your biggest fan, but I guess that’s just not good enough/Is it cause I wear my hair in or because I like to play Diablo”). Regardless, he shows he’s quite the hopeless romantic on “Lava Lamp” (“Maybe another time and space/When I can look you in the face/Far, far away/Maybe in another life”). Liquor seems to be the prevailing theme of Drunk, as the world spins around him and he tries to find solace in something other than the bottle. But it all comes back around on album closer “DUI” where Thundercat gets existential (“Sometimes you’re alive/Sometimes you are dead inside/With the time to read between the lines of life and death”).
Thundercat is someone who seems to thrive on misery, a optimistic musician in pessimistic situations. It makes him very entertaining and a compliment to his impressive musical ability. Drunk is Thundercat finding solace in the music he makes, something fun and freewheeling while still be an outsider. If now is the time to learn about this artist, Drunk is a great place to start.