Early on his latest album, Drunk, on the song “Bus in These Streets” (written alongside Louis Cole), bassist/singer/personality Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner notes that he’s “out here doing the most”. Thundercat’s third album on the Brainfeeder label does a lot of things, and “the most” is the best descriptor.
In the DVD audio commentary of Martin Scorsese’s Casino, editor Thelma Schoonmaker noted that the movie was three hours but it’s a brisk three hours. It’s a movie with so much movement (particularly in its first act) and so many cuts to move with the voiceover, that the level of activity maintains audience interest for the entire story. This came to mind when I realized that yes, there are 23 songs here elapsing 51 minutes, but it’s a brisk hour, and much like a flowing, sprawling Scorsese film, one can get swept up to the point that you aren’t noticing how many cuts there are anyway. However, also like Casino, by the time you’re nearing the end, you’re getting sort of tired and a bit relieved when Nicky gets his head bashed in with a baseball bat while later appreciating the callback to the beginning (no, I’m not going to warn you about spoiling a 21-year-old movie).
All of this is to say this is a rather outsized album. There are so many ideas here, often rapidly played through at a frenetic pace, never wearing out their welcome on their own but at times in album form seeming as if one were drinking water from a fire hydrant; this, however, doesn’t make the water any less cool. “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)” is a clever inversion of 2013’s “Tron Song”. “Blackkk” is a fusion call to action straight from the soul of Return to Forever. And the placement of the single’s that led to this release — the yacht rock jam “Show You The Way” featuring Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, the Isley Brothers cribbing “Them Changes” off last year’s Where The Giants Roam EP, and what’s certainly a club banger “Friend Zone” — fit perfectly in the layout of this sprawling work. There are a lot of songs here and many of them indeed are the jam, but such a work feels overstuffed, like avoiding dinner by eating all the well-crafted hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party.
Nevertheless, this a Thundercat album. People are leaping at this no matter what I say, and in Bruner’s body of work, this is the next logical step to a certain degree. He’s galavanting across the globe; he’s still finding center; clearly through his lyricism, his heart is on his sleeve as much as his energy is flowing from his fingers. It’s hard to say if this would be a more refined album with half the songs and a third of the length. It’s hard to say if that would interfere with the idea that when one is drunk, and trying to find center, that the impossibility of finding a hold of everything isn’t meant to be part of the experience. That’s part of being drunk, and thus part of Thundercat’s Drunk— doing the most.
Drunk, the third album from bassist Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, is out now on Brainfeeder.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.