The king of bassists has returned, and it is in glorious fashion.
Thundercat has finally released his new full-length LP, It Is What It Is.
It’s been an incredibly tumultuous time for Thundercat since his last album Drunk was released in 2017. He hit a new height of mainstream success and recognition pretty rapidly. One of his closest friends and long-time collaborators, Mac Miller, suddenly and tragically passed away shortly before their scheduled joint tour. Yet through all this, Stephen Bruner has managed to craft an excellent project that encapsulates nearly all of the best aspects of his last two releases, still finding time for the virtuoso fingerwork his most hardcore fans remember from his 2011 debut The Golden Age of Apocalypse.
If it’s that ridiculously strong technicality you’re looking for, you’d be in luck. As always, there’s no shortage of impressive playing across the album. You’ve got Thundercat himself delivering as always on the bass, and standout performances from his drummer, brother Ronald Bruner Jr. Further, his side project with Thomas Pridgen and Justin Brown “Nyeusi” is an underground jazz-funk titan in and of itself.
A few tracks on the album are important to highlight. “Interstellar Love” perfectly captures the intoxicating peacefulness of weightless drifting that accompanies being in love. “How Sway” is a track deeply reminiscent of the mind-melting “Uh uh” off of Drunk. Then there’s “Unrequited Love”, which stands strong, having the smooth and sensual grooves of a classic D’Angelo cut.
If your favorite part of Drunk was the humor, there’s plenty of that on this album as well. The single “Dragonball Durag” not only has incredibly groovable beats and bass lines, but it’s also got the same kind of coolly comical lyrics of tracks like “Friend Zone” or “Captain Stupido”. The accompanying video directed and edited by Zack Fox (who also has a feature on the track “Overseas”), starring Haim, Quinta Brunson, and Kali Uchis is also an awkwardly comedic triumph.
What thematically distinguishes this album the most from his last release, though, is his clear focus on feelings of being lost and coming to terms with the bad things in life. Growing up in the LA music scene, things were always naturally in flux. Thundercat remarked in his recent interview with The Fader, “‘You can’t hold on to nothing in L.A.. Everything is always fleeting,’”. The untimely passing of Mac Miller, who Thundercat was incredibly close with, co-writing and performing on multiple tracks on both Swimming and Circles, came as a huge shock to his world. This desperate search for meaning and support came through both lyrically and sonically on It Is What It Is.
Opening with “Lost in Space”, the first part of a short medley, the direction here is clear. This album is a journey of acceptance. Coming to terms with Mac’s death, plus all the other crazy stuff going on in his life since his last release, Thundercat works through his highs and lows, with strange, comic pessimist tracks like “Miguel’s Happy Dance” and its lyrics, “just do the f-ing dance/even if you start to cry”, to show how uncomfortable this whole process was to him. Ending with the title track, “It Is What It Is”, it becomes clear that there is some sense of fulfillment or at least neutral resignation at the end of this journey.
It’s taken a long time for Thundercat to get here, and the many personal hiccups along the way come through in this project, coupled with the life lessons he’d learned from them. Together with his typically enrapturing instrumentals, grooving beats, and often darkly comic lyrics, It Is What It Is comes together as a strangely unified grab bag of dope tunes.
It Is What It Is is also featured on KCPR’s curated playlist, Moon. Check out the playlist below to listen to more of Thundercat, along with other new artists alike.
Colin Brunson is a Cal Poly History junior and KCPR staff member. Image credit to Thundercat.