Capsule Review: Drunk – Thundercat

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This piece was originally published by Audioxide in March 2017. All I’m going to add here is that Thundercat’s brother, Ronald Bruner Jr., made a markedly better album than Drunk this year. I’m planning to write about it soon(ish), but I thought I’d mention it here because seemingly no fucker has heard it, and that’s a crying shame.

Of Drunk’s twenty-three tracks, only six exceed three minutes. The record is fifty-one minutes long, so the average track sticks around for roughly two minutes. Albums such as J Dilla’s Donuts and Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! have demonstrated that this kind of structure is better suited to creating the illusion of formlessness: an album that’s rapid and seamless, that careens through short tracks that are mixed to function not as discrete units, but as movements within a larger, constantly shifting piece of music. Drunk diverges from this model in two respects: first, it’s fractured and elliptical rather than fluid, comprising entirely of short songs that function as discrete units; second, it’s more downtempo and mellow than exhilarating, consciously eschewing memorable hooks and melodies in favour of luxuriating in textures and grooves.

So, to summarise: Thundercat wants to luxuriate, but briefly; he’s adopted an album structure that’s restless and befitting of rapidity, but often plays with a languid tempo that makes two minutes feel like four; he doesn’t want to exhaust an idea, getting in and out of a song as soon as possible (often to its detriment), but has at the same time stuffed this album with so many ideas that it drags and becomes exhausting. Drunk is, in other words, an album of irreconcilable contradictions, and the way it was put together makes no fucking sense to me. It has its pleasures, of course: Thundercat is a magnificent player, a funny guy, and an inquisitive musician who trades in an intoxicating blend of jazz, soul, electronic, funk, and hip-hop. When these strands coalesce on tracks such as ‘Tokyo’, ‘Friend Zone’ and ‘A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)’, it’s undeniable and indelible. But the way in which this album has been presented makes these highlights feel more ephemeral than they perhaps are, drowned out by the surrounding noise. It is, ultimately, a baffling construction, and an unfortunately unsatisfying experience.

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