new music: thundercat drops his afrofuturist opus ‘drunk’ early #soundcheck

February 24, 2017

That ultracool dwarf star with 7 planets orbiting it just discovered by astronomers is 40 light years away. This means that both the glorious funk operas of George Clinton, Sun Ra’s experiments with electronica, and the smooth yacht rock of the late 70s just reached it. In record time, they’ve sent back their response: Thundercat’s Drunk.

The bass virtuoso and melodic mage (I’m going to be mixing nerd genres here, deal with it) sends up one of the first albums to come out in my lifetime that sounds downright futuristic. Driven by his ethereal falsetto, and a collection of unbeatable collaborators (Kendrick Lamar? FlyLo? Pharrell? Motherfucking Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald? Why not?), the songs conjure that moment right before the sun rises after a late night out when the alcohol in the blood stream mixes with exhaustion and empty city streets to paint a totally surreal picture. The hooks don’t completely make sense, but that’s always been Thundercat’s genius. On cuts like the Kendrick-featuring “Walk On By,” thoughts jump from one to another, over past mistakes, loneliness, nostalgia, and frustration with the world’s injustices, in that logic that only too much whiskey can inspire.

Over 23 tracks, some sound more like sketches than fully realized songs, but the attention shifts that tie them together all somehow make sense in Thundercat world. Consistently, this is an album that defies explanation but is dope as fuck anyway, buoyed by Thundercat’s giddy “look at this! And this! OH! AND THIS!”. His exuberance at being in Tokyo because of a childhood love affair with Dragonball Z is impossible not to fall in love with. His excitement at collaborating with both Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins on the highlight “Show You The Way” makes the song. (Though I’m disappointed that McDonald didn’t have time to add some classic McDonald backing vocal riffs in anymore. You don’t bring in the greatest living backup singer (he was tied with Luther Vandross when he was still with us) if you can’t have them throw a few “yeahs” your way, but such is life.) “Jameel’s Space Ride” makes the “fuck this planet’s racist bullshit, space is better anyway” of classic Afrofuturism just about as explicit as can be with lines like “I’m safe on my block except for the cops / will they attack / could it be cause I’m black? / I want to fly away off into space, and into the sun, with all the spirits and space dust and aliens, where we belong / fuck yeah!”

By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK contributor

Thundercat’s general goofiness is offset by the deep pain of songs like “Where I’m Going” and “Them Changes,” making the cartoon character weirdness of songs like “Captain Stupido” suddenly compelling by turning them into a mask. And somehow he pulls out the existential sadness at the heart of a goddamn Wiz Khalifa feature. How? Not sure. He’s a wizard, Harry. As the album draws to a close, Thundercat pulls out his most startlingly beautiful moments. A trio of FlyLo collabs brings “Inferno” “3AM” and “Drunk,” each laying out the spaced out beauty he’s all but patented. But the album’s most poignant moment comes courtesy of the Pharrell assisted “The Turn Down.” “If you scared of different then you should not take the same path / If all lives matter when we mention black, why do you gasp? / Behind our blue skies is the sun who’s surrounded by black.”

Excuse me, while I play this again.

2.12 The Independent – San Francisco, CA *sold out
2.13 The Independent – San Francisco, CA *sold out
2.14 The Independent – San Francisco, CA *sold out
2.16 Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR *sold out
2.17 Rickshaw Theatre – Vancouver, BC *sold out
2.18 Wild Buffalo – Bellingham, WA *sold out
2.19 Barboza – Seattle, WA *sold out
2.21 Urban Lounge – Salt Lake City, UT *sold out
2.22 Bluebird Theater – Denver, CO *sold out
2.24 Fine Line Music Cafe – Minneapolis, MN *sold out
2.25 Concord Music Hall – Chicago, IL *sold out
2.26 Magic Stick – Detroit, MI
2.28 Danforth Music Hall – Toronto, ON *sold out
3.01 SAT – Montreal, QC
3.02 Paradise – Boston, MA *sold out
3.03 Irving Plaza – New York, NY *sold out
3.04 Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA *sold out
3.05 U Street Music Hall – Washington, DC *sold out
3.07 Terminal West – Atlanta, GA *sold out
3.08 Exit In – Nashville, TN *sold out
3.10 Buku Music + Art Project – New Orleans, LA
3.11 Warehouse Live – Houston, TX
3.12 Trees – Dallas, TX
3.16 Barby Club – Tel Aviv, Israel *sold out
3.18 Niebo Club – Warsaw, Poland
3.19 Yaam – Berlin, Germany
3.20 Mojo – Hamburg, Germany
3.21 CBE – Cologne, Germany
3.22 Thekla – Bristol, UK *sold out
3.23 Gorilla – Manchester, UK *sold out
3.24 Invisible Wind Factory – Liverpool, UK *sold out
3.27 Vicar Street – Dublin, Rep. Of Ireland
3.28 Heaven – London, UK *sold out
3.29 La Cartonnerie – Reims, France
3.30 Trabendo – Paris, France
4.01 Fri-Son – Fribourg, Switzerland
4.02 Theater Moods – Zurich, Switzerland
4.03 Atelier Babylon – Bratislava, Slovakia
4.04 Porgy & Bess – Vienna, Austria
4.05 Lucerna Music Bar – Prague, Czech Republic
4.07 Motel Mozaique Festival – Rotterdam, Netherlands
4.08 Transition Festival – Utrecht, Netherlands
4.09 BRDCST Festival – Brussels, Belgium
4.15 Indio, CA – Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
4.22 Indio, CA – Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
4.27 Liquid Room – Tokyo, Japan
4.28 Blue Note – Nagoya, Japan
4.29 Conpass – Osaka, Japan
4.30 Metro – Kyoto, Japan

Photo by Neil Mota