On 'Drunk,' Thundercat Weaves Major Pop Hooks Into Minor Life Vignettes | KUOW News and Information

On 'Drunk,' Thundercat Weaves Major Pop Hooks Into Minor Life Vignettes

Mar 13, 2017
Originally published on March 22, 2017 8:46 am

Stephen Bruner is a bass player, singer and songwriter who's as well known for his own music as for his collaborations. But when he released his latest solo single as Thundercat few weeks ago, those who know his work with Kendrick Lamar were scratching their heads. Here was a fiery visionary collaborating with two icons of easygoing '70s pop: Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald.

Thundercat names those two artists among his musical heroes. And though he has a reputation for overturning established ideas about jazz and hip-hop, his new album, Drunk, shows he's got quite the ear for old school pop hooks as well.

Most of the 23 tracks on Drunk are brief, freeform vignettes. Several feature elaborate falsetto vocal chorales styled after The Beach Boys. Another song, "Walk On By," features dizzying polyrhythmic lyricism from Lamar: "From my eyewitness binoculars to Argentina and Africa, we mastered the pressure hazardous, harassing us. You laugh at us," he raps. Thundercat says working with Lamar changed his approach to songwriting. He realized that not every track has to be a master's thesis — small is OK.

With this simultaneously bold and playful new album, he explores little slices of his story (like his obsession with anime). There's heavy musicianship going on — that's his signature, after all — but it's in the service of bright, hooky melodies. With this kind of ecstasy-seeking pop, everything else can ride shotgun.

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOKYO")

THUNDERCAT: (Singing) Restless nights in Tokyo...

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Stephen Bruner is a bass player, singer and songwriter better known as Thundercat. The Los Angeles native won a Grammy for his work on Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly." He now has a third solo album. It's called "Drunk," and reviewer Tom Moon says it packs a lot of surprises into 51 minutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOW YOU THE WAY")

THUNDERCAT: (Vocalizing).

TOM MOON, BYLINE: When Thundercat released this single a few weeks back, those who know his work with rapper Kendrick Lamar were scratching their heads.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOW YOU THE WAY")

THUNDERCAT: (Singing) Let me show you the way. On the edge of dark, there's the brightest light, a burning one...

MOON: Here was a fiery visionary collaborating with two icons of easygoing '70s pop, singers Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOW YOU THE WAY")

THUNDERCAT: Ladies and gentlemen, Michael McDonald.

MICHAEL MCDONALD: (Singing) Wake up, and dream. Tell the wall before you believe there might not be a truth.

MOON: Thundercat names McDonald and Loggins among his musical heroes. And though he is known for overturning established ideas about jazz and hip hop, Thundercat's new album shows he's got quite the ear for old-school pop hooks as well. There are several tracks with elaborate falsetto vocal chorales styled after The Beach Boys. This one slips in sly commentary on digital culture.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUS IN THESE STREETS")

THUNDERCAT: (Singing) Thank God for technology 'cause where would we be if we couldn't tweet our thoughts?

MOON: Most of the 23 tracks on "Drunk" are brief, freeform vignettes. This one features dizzying polyrhythmic rap from Kendrick Lamar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK ON BY")

KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) From my eyewitness binoculars to Argentina and Africa, we mastered the pressure hazardous, harassing us. You laugh at us.

MOON: Thundercat says working with Kendrick Lamar changed his approach to songwriting. He realized that not every track has to be a master's thesis. Small is OK. With this simultaneously bold and playful new album, he explores little slices of his story, like his obsession with anime. There's heavy musicianship going on. That's his signature after all. But it's in the service of bright, hooky melodies. With this kind of ecstasy-seeking pop, everything else can ride shotgun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEM CHANGES")

THUNDERCAT: (Singing) Nobody move. There's blood on the floor, and I can't find my heart.

CORNISH: The latest from Thundercat is titled "Drunk." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEM CHANGES")

THUNDERCAT: (Singing) So please give it back 'cause it's not yours to take. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.