Musicology (2)

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Rahsaan Nance Thanks for reading the second installment of what is now known as “Musicology” (also, props if you get the reference). This time around, we’ll be listening to Drunk, the third album by Californian bassist and songwriter Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner co-produced by Brainfeeder collaborator and president, Flying Lotus. In this and most future reviews, we will be reviewing the album in arcs, instead of individual songs, in the interest of brevity. This first arc, we will call “Down the Rabbit Ho,” in reference to the first track on the album. “Rabbit Ho” is a short intro, preparing us for the exciting track that follows, “Captain Stupido.” I see this song as an introduction to Thundercat as a person — what goes through his mind everyday and his daily routine, and what happens when he’s drank too much, like losing his wallet. Up next is the erratic jazz-fusion piece, “Uh Uh,” the first Thundercat song I ever heard and one of my favorites.Then comes the yacht rock inspired “Bus In These Streets,” a reflection on modern advances in technology, as well as a second reference as to what he lost after his presumed night out partying, this time his phone. Next is “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)”. This is the sequel to “Tron Song,” from his last album Apocalypse. Tron refers to his cat, Turbo Tron Over 9000 Baby Jesus Sally, and this song is exactly the kind of randomness we will come to expect from Thundercat. Subsequent are the philosophical “Lava Lamp” and “Jethro,” (two of my favorite songs) involving reflections on death inspired by the passing of his best friend, Austin Peralta, who died in 2012. “Day & Night” serves as a transition into the next section, which I have titled, “On the Edge of Dark,” named for a lyric in the next song, “Show You The Way,” featuring yacht rock legends Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. This song is a contrast to the last couple songs of the last section; it is more positive and seventies rock-influenced. Following this is “Walk On By” featuring rap artist Kendrick Lamar, with whom Stephen has worked with on Lamar’s  2015 tour de force To Pimp a Butterfly. Kendrick gives a solid verse about loneliness, another overall theme that will be elaborated on in the future. Next we get “Blackkk,” a spiritual journey for Stephen, and the transition into a more whimsical part of this section, highlighted by the next track, “Tokyo.” Thundercat describes his time in Tokyo, watching anime and being “ruined” by Goku. The piece is followed by “Jameel’s Space Ride,” dedicated to his brother Jameel Bruner (formerly of The Internet). He describes what it’s like to be a Black man in America in a video game-inspired track. Next is “Friend Zone,” a somewhat silly funk piece about the friend zone, evidently, and playing video games. The George Clinton influences here are clear. Up next is a track first heard on his EP, Where the Giants Roam, “Them Changes” (not the Buddy Miles song, as I had previously expected). This song features a sampled beat from the Isley Brothers “Footsteps in the Dark,” as well as sax solos from the artist on our last review, Kamasi Washington. This song features his signature contrasts of upbeat music with depressing lyrics. We begin our last arc, titled “The Descent Into Madness” (referencing a lyric on “Inferno” that itself references a Flying Lotus song featuring Thundercat of the same name) with “Where I’m Going,” lyrically and musically one of my favorite songs. The song includes a fadeout for a full minute, so you can enjoy the jam session between T-Cat and the drummer. Next is “Drink Dat” featuring Wiz Khalifa. I particularly enjoy the music of this track, even though I am not the biggest fan of Wiz Khalifa’s solo work. In interviews, Thundercat has discussed being fascinated with the idea of the smoker and the drinker finding each other (Wiz being the former, Bruner the latter). The end of the song perfectly segues into what I consider to be the centerpiece or climax of the album, “Inferno.” For me, this is where many of the lyrical and musical ideas come together in one epic piece. With a cool intro, hard groove, and an outro so crazy I can’t even figure out what time signature it’s in, the piece serves as an intro to the story of the album. Next is the concise and direct “I Am Crazy” which follows  “3AM,” another important piece in the album. With some of Bruner’s signature bass chords, he describes a sentiment that I’m sure many of our readers can identify with. Next is “Drunk,” the title track. In a song that is half reflection on the meaning of the album and half existential crisis, T-Cat has described it as “therapy,” expressing his feelings on the daily. Penultimately is “The Turn Down,” featuring Pharrell. Bruner describes it as his “everything is terrible” song. This song is also quite reflective — both on society in “Bus in These Streets,” and himself in the previous song, “Drunk.” This song feels like laughing to stop from crying, which, I believe, is the overarching theme of the album. Finally, there is “DUI,” which has the same basic musical idea as the first track “DUI.” This song explains the cyclical nature of the album, best captured in the final line, “Where this ends we’ll never know.” If you want, you can think of the end of the album as the beginning and the beginning as the aftermath. He can see the cyclical nature, but still winds up repeating it, drunk and confused for another day. Recommended Recordings: The Epic-Kamasi Washington Cosmogramma-Flying Lotus Because the Internet-Childish Gambino Thanks for reading! We had a lot to cover. As always, if you have any suggestions for what else I should review, email me at [email protected]. Thanks!]]>