In his most polished release yet, Californian multi-instrumentalist Stephen Bruner (Thundercat) delves into how we survive in the modern age.
“Where would we be,” Bruner poses on ‘Bus in These Streets’, “if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts?” Your smart ass might say “on Facebook,” but such a response just vindicates the message of Bruner’s glistening funk album Drunk, a bittersweet response to the sad ironies of the modern age – and a great realisation of the sound he has been working towards since Apocalypse.
Drunk is a representation of our compulsion towards irony, the past, and escapism. The early half of the album concerns itself with the initial rush of novelty in the technological era, with ‘Show You the Way’ and its ’70s cast of Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald tracing our weird desire for the campy. ‘Tokyo’, which listens like a feverish Japanese arcade-dream, plays with our desire for constant stimulation. This section of the album is then akin to a new meme in your news feed after scrolling for hours.
But all news feeds must end — this is where the album gets juicy. ‘Inferno’ sees “darker horizons ahead,” and ‘The Turn Down’ reflects on our destiny and the consequences of our escaping. On ‘Drink Dat’ Wiz Khalifa’s self-aware party lyrics (“another drink, it might be a problem”) are juxtaposed with Bruner’s brooding bassline to reveal the short-sightedness of coping through drugs and alcohol. Closing with ‘DUI’, Bruner has us reflecting on our time spent: “one more glass to go, / Where this ends we’ll never know.”
Sonically, however, the album’s strange soul/funk fusion is a lifeline for the tired and let-down. Drunk is tied together by Bruner’s delicate falsetto, which moves the listener through night scenes of success, regret, and survival. Tracks like the melancholic ‘Lava Lamp’ or the gooey ‘A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)’ illustrate his versatility and raw emotive power.
But his voice isn’t the main feature. On the technically perfect instrumental ‘Uh Uh’, Bruner’s smooth bass evolves under a gripping piano improv, and rhythm sections on tracks like ‘Jethro’ and ‘Them Changes’ are jiggy, sparking dopamine rushes in the most drained student. Complete with exchanges between synths (‘Jameel’s Space Ride’), Rhodes pianos, and plucked guitars, the album is likely to kick anyone’s system into survival mode.
Drunk is enthralling. It rocks, captures, and feeds the soul. If you can’t take any message away from Bruner’s best project to date, then at least its powerful oddball funk will convince you that everything is okay – even when it really isn’t.