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Albums That Made Me - Drunk

In this series of blogs, I will document a selection of albums that were pivotal in shaping my musical journey. I will focus on what made these albums special to me, as opposed to what makes them special in music, cultural or any other terms. Of course, every album I discuss can be considered as recommended listening, however, please keep in mind that whilst these albums are special to me, that doesn't mean they're particularly special and/or unique in their own right (although in most cases, I would argue that they are!).

 

Artist: Thundercat

Album: Drunk

Release: 2016

Label: Brainfeeder

Genre: Jazz Fusion


Personnel:


Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner – vocals (all tracks), bass (all tracks), programming (tracks 10-12, 18, 19, 21, 22)

Miguel Atwood-Ferguson – strings (tracks 18, 23)

S. Burris – synth-bass (track 8)

Zane Carney – guitar (track 2)

Louis Cole – drums (tracks 4, 13), keyboards (tracks 4, 13), programming (tracks 4, 13), "basically everything" (track 13)

Kevin "Daddy Kev" Moo – mastering

Charles "Mono/Poly" Dickerson – keyboards (track 14), programming (track 14)

Steven "Flying Lotus" Ellison – mixing, additional production (tracks 1-5, 7-10, 13, 15, 16, 18-23), synthesizer (track 15), programming (tracks 2, 7, 9, 15, 16, 18, 20, 21)

Taylor Graves – keyboards (track 17), programming (track 17)

Dennis Hamm – keyboards (tracks 1, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 18, 20, 23), piano (tracks 3, 15), synthesizers (track 6)

Kendrick Lamar – vocals (track 10)

Kenny Loggins – vocals (track 9)

Michael McDonald – vocals (track 9), keyboards (track 9)

Harry Rabin – engineer (track 9)

Mac Miller – vocals (track 24)

Deantoni Parks – drums (tracks 7, 16)

Zack Sekoff – programming (track 3)

Mark "Sounwave" Spears – production (tracks 5, 6, 11)

Cameron "Wiz Khalifa" Thomaz – vocals (track 17)

Kamasi Washington – saxophone (track 15)

Pharrell Williams – vocals (track 22)


Personal Context


I was a little late to the Thundercat party. I'd heard and been impressed by the most well-known single from this album, Them Changes, however I'd only heard the song at times when I wasn't able to follow it up, such as in the pub.


It was whilst watching Diggin' In The Carts, the Red Bull Music Academy documentary about video game music, that I took the initiative to look into Thundercat properly. In this documentary, he laments on the funk of the Sonic The Hedgehog and Streets of Rage soundtracks, and instantly I'm thinking "this man is a kindred spirit". His throwaway line of "I now pronounce you man and SEGA" really tickled me, as I could really relate!


After spinning Them Changes on YouTube and paying close attention to the mastery at work, I purchased the album, and it's since been in my very regular listening rotation.


My Takeaways


If you've been following these Albums That Made Me articles, you'll know that I like musicians who are at the top of their game, yet harbour no pretentiousness whatsoever. Thundercat is one such artist. His use of melody, harmony and rhythm is often playful, even whimsical, yet it's drenched in drama, conflict, tension and jazziness.


Like other acts I love dearly (such as YMO and Tom Waits), he orchestrates his music with unexpected, unusual textures that cleverly compliment and support the message of the music. Furthermore, when he uses conventional instrumentation, he manipulates their tone and character to take them outside the realm of convention, adding sonic spice to his music.


His use of harmony leans heavily on jazz and soul influences, yet it's often accompanied with thick, lush vocal harmonies that hark back to artists such as Sam Cooke and Brian Wilson. This use of vocal harmony adds an almost ethereal quality to certain passages of music on the album.


Another impressive quality of this album is how it changes direction, without ever feeling abrupt or jarring. One moment things will be frantic and energised like a parody of old TV theme-tunes, and then it'll turn on a penny to delivery slow-medium tempo grooves that would make J Dilla proud. Yet, despite the sudden changes, they always feel appropriate and cohesive.


Drunk's incredible musical collage is comprehensively pieced together with a number of industry-leading session musicians, performers and artists, and it's a testament to Thundercat's nature and vision that so many wonderfully-talented musicians wanted to be onboard for this album.


Adding another dimension to this already rich tapestry of sonic colours is where this album becomes evermore elevated; his lyrics! Thundercat's lyricism is unlike anyone else I've come across. He's super-meta and seems to able to condense 20-something online-humour and culture into witty summaries and descriptive metaphors. His words can be deep, but also hilariously trivial. In one song he writes about blowing all of his money on anime. In another song he pettily delivers a line about how he'd rather stay home and play Mortal Kombat than go out with the girl who's the subject of the song. Yet his lyricism also explores his very-real struggles with alcoholism, depression and social topics just as class divides and racial tension, often through a metaphorical lens. To contrast such complex music with heavy, rich and sophisticated, lyricism demonstrates a deserved confidence few artists can achieve.


Lastly, to top everything off, he pulls in the occasional audio samples from pop culture to reinforce the humour in his lyrics. There's even a sound effect from Sonic The Hedgehog nestled in there, harking back to his childhood love and influence of the sounds of SEGA games. Like I said, in Thundercat, I see a kindred spirit of SEGA music fandom, and much more.


Conclusion


Drunk is meticulous and heartfelt whilst also managing to give zero f***s. It's bold, charismatic, understated and overstated, funky, jazzy and much, much more. It's an exercise is masterful duality, paradoxically being heavy and weightless; dark and light.

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