Thundercat is 32-year-old Stephen Bruner from Los Angeles, California. Professionally a session musician, Thundercat was raised in a family of musicians. Around 2008 he began to expand beyond session musicianship as his craft and work towards a solo career recording music. He began slowly, featuring on other artists’ albums like Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah (2008) and shortly after, Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma (2010). Thus, began a hot streak for Bruner in his late 20s. Suddenly, he found himself on the map with other major artists. Some that picked him up for a feature include Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Mac Miller, Vic Mensa, and Kamasi Washington.
This year, in late February, Bruner released Drunk. Coming through with just under an hour of material across 23 songs, Bruner returned with his quirky sense of humor, discussing living life as a semi-successful artist. The tone of Drunk maintains the quirk from his earlier discography, while maintaining the darker tones lifted from Apocalypse (2013), where Bruner discusses the loss of a close friend, Austin Peralta.
Bruner jumps back and forth between his hilarious songwriting heard on track 12, “Tokyo”, and his darker material as heard on track 18, “Inferno”. Through the emotional switches, the album maintains its most striking points: It’s an honest portrayal of Bruner’s identity. Although Bruner may have successfully mourned and moved on from the loss of Peralta, he still maintains some inner turmoil from the event, as evidenced by the changes in tone. This album presents an interesting angle for listeners. Given the context of Peralta’s death, we can assume that Bruner is recovering from his loss, and trying to regain stability in his life.
Despite its emotional honesty, this album certainly has its weaknesses. This album becomes exhausting after 50 minutes of Bruner’s formulaic songwriting. It feels as if most of the album is filler given each track is short. Perhaps if there were longer songs to fill the place of 2 or 3 shorter ones, the album would feel more cohesive, and the track list wouldn’t be such a bear. But that’s primarily my biggest complaint – it’s lack of cohesion as an artistic project. To me, it just feels rushed.
This is derivative of Bruner’s main weakness as an artist: his approach to songwriting and execution is too formulaic to warrant 23 small vignettes. However, that’s not to say that the album is bad either. It has its defining moments, like “Show You the Way”, but with so many short musical ideas, I can’t help but feel that this album could have used some more polish and some fat cut from the track listing.
Out of all the songs on the album, I enjoyed only a handful: “Bus in These Streets”, “Show You the Way”, “Friend Zone”, “Them Changes”, and “3AM”. Each of these but “3AM” were teased as single tracks for this album prior to its release. Out of 23 songs, I only loved the ones that were worth putting out as singles? That’s never a good sign for an album. The single tracks should not define an album as much as the tracks that make up most of it.
Overall, Drunk is a forgettable effort. Although the direction taken is easily identifiable, it was not very well executed. Bruner’s attempt to make an album about his life in general after Peralta’s death and his rise to success was admirable at best. However, after many listens to this album, I can say for a fact that not even Bruner may know what he wants out of his own music. Perhaps with a little more polish, and a little more judgement, Bruner’s next solo effort will hopefully be more memorable.