By Faisal Rajan
I remember reading a Hannibal Burress interview where he said that everyone who reviews music should give some context of what they were doing when they listened to the album, because as he puts it, “I saw a tweet that said music reviewers should have to say what they were doing when they were listening to the album, ’cause if you were gardening while listening to Travis Scott, I don’t want to read your review,”
So when I listened to Thundercat’s (real name Stephen Brunner) latest album It Is What It Is, I was in my room late at night, stuck home because of the current covid-19 epidemic, with the lights turned off and my LED lights turned to red like Thundercat’s logo. I plugged my headphones into my laptop and hit play. Then I repeated that three more times. I hope this provides enough context for my readers.
With a runtime of only 37 minutes, It Is What It Is is a mix of all things Thundercat, but at his most crisp, clean and precise self. It’s his shortest album, but all of the classic Thundercat tropes make appearances: there’s cosmic space jazz, there’s raunchy lyrics, and juicy funk.
Yet there’s just slight differences compared to previous albums that provide a nice refreshing feeling to it compared to his past works. He’s still playing bass just like he always does, except it’s even faster, crazier, and more complex, yet it fits naturally. He is still crooning with excellent falsetto but it’s even better than before while still singing about the classic crazy things from getting sloppy toppy on an airplane to trying to pick up ladies with his fresh new “Dragonball Durag.”
High points on this album are everywhere. My two personal favorite moments after repeatedly listening to the transition of “Miguel’s Happy Dance,” into “How Sway,” and the very end of the title track “It Is What It Is.”
However, there are so many great moments, from Childish Gambino’s guest verse on the full version of “Black Squalls,” to Zach Fox’s best feature to date. Though the best feature on the album is Lil B. Somehow this tag team duo just lends itself to being one of the weirdest yet most seamless features ever.
Production-wise, Flying Lotus and Thundercat are one of the best duos in the game. The crisp and clean sound helps make every crazy bass riff sound even better and crazier. You can feel the energy that permeates throughout the album and these songs are much bigger than the sum of its parts.
For example, the keys and sparse guitar that are played throughout only help to complement the monstrous lead bass playing. Speaking of lead bass playing, Thundercat’s strongest ability on this album is to weave in and out of the spotlight at will.
There are many moments where you get bombarded with pure virtuoso talent but there are equal times when he takes a step back and just lets you enjoy the song. This skill right here is the fine line that separates savant talent and skill on an instrument and being a good artist. Thundercat is able to tip toe this fine line to such an ability that it should be considered an entire new skill in its own right.
Now if one wants to get someone into listening to this album I would say “Dragonball Durag,” is the best song on the album and the most accessible song to new fans. It has got such a unique flair to it that you can not help but understand that it is an amazing song.
However, while there are many other great songs, there are also many little one minute to two minute songs here that just add so much life to the album. Without these little bangers like “How Sway,” or “How I Feel,” the entire flow would just be off. These little details just keep everything so fresh and so clean. At first glance one could say that these are interludes yet if anything they are full outright songs in their own right. My only issue is that they are so short. Just like this album.
On the course of this 37-minute emotional rollercoaster of an album, you can clearly tell that Thundercat is still doing his best to live on in the face of his close friend Mac Miller’s death. It’s been around a year and half since then and Thundercat will never be the same. Death sucks and is sad, but that is not stopping him from going on and doing his classic Thundercat shenanigans. He’s going out and having fun and hitting on ladies with his dragonball durag, but at the end of it all you can still feel that nothing will ever be the same.
The title track “It Is What it Is,” feels like one of those nights where you just sit in bed and reminisce about everything and once the song ends those last few seconds of silence just make you want to just go to the very beginning and re-listen to the album all over again. I hope all is well with Thundercat because he has released what I believe to be his best album and already one of the best albums of the year.