Thundercat – It Is What It Is Album Review

Brainfeeder – 2020

The bass virtuoso takes a moment to remember life lost

On Thundercats fourth album, the big beat of past albums is often dropped in favour of a more melancholy tone, letting the music speak for itself whilst still keeping that classic comic Thundercat feel when it needs to. The follow up to critically acclaimed Drunk sees Thundercat realise he’s getting a little older, try and understand the new world around him and pay tribute to lost friend and collaborator Mac Miller.

Thundercats high octane musicianship has always been at the forefront of his playing and songwriting and is showcased on this album more than ever before. With flurries of Jazz breakdowns and jams sprinkled throughout, this album feels nostalgic and yet futuristic in the same moment.

The spacey instrumental passages within ‘Interstellar Love’ and ‘I Love Louis Cole’ showcase this unique ability of genre blending to create a sci-fi, jazz, hip-hop marriage of sounds that glides you through the astral plains of noise created within. Then suddenly landing back down on earth with the 70’s funk inspired ‘Black Qualls’ which features 3 high profile, but still lowkey features from Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington and Childish Gambino. A track inspired by trying to move on with your life but feeling the anxiety of the judgement of those you’ve left behind. The juxtaposed upbeat, walk down the street with a bounce groove and the agitated lyrics keep the sound feeling fresh but the theme of growing up stays consistent. “The box you try to throw me in don’t fit me no more, no, creative spirit talkin, creative spirit walkin”

Standout single ‘Dragonball Durag’ is bathed in classic Thundercat lyricism humour as Thundercat shows off his love for Dragon-ball. “Do you like my new whip? Watch me go zoom, zoom, Baby girl, how do I look in my durag? Would you tie the drapes?” A final uplifting moment of thumping bass, woozy guitar and a crisp saxophone solo thanks again to friend and frequent collaborator Kamasi Washington.

The final third of the album is a sombre ode to lost friend Mac Miller. ‘King Of The Hill’ one of the oldest tracks on the album, originally appearing on the Brainfeeder 10th anniversary compilation, shows Thundercats more retrospective side. “A king of the hill, Wasting his time, Chasing cheap thrills, He knows it’s gonna cost him, God knows how much”. The slow ballad of ‘Unrequited Love’ and chill lo-fi beats of ‘Fair Chance’ offer a more open expression of loss and the way Thundercat tries to deal with it. The smooth atmospheric Jazzy tones and progressions are delicate and emotion filled at the same time, Thundercat steps back from the forefront and lets the music express itself.

Whilst this album is only 37 minutes it encompasses a 15 track span and almost half of those are taken up by interluding jams and mini songs. On ‘Drunk’ these interludes offered a brief moment away from the singles. On this album however they often flow into one another creating a style of their own, but at times can saturate the album too much where a full song could have been placed or an extended jam as with the feel of this album.

That’s not to undermine the ever impressive musicianship and revival in funk jazz fusions that Thundercat has brought about in the past few years. And whilst this album might be one of the shortest in his catalogue, it still offers those moments of technical brilliance and songwriting eccentricity that we have come to know and love from Thundercat. It is what it is.