Album Review: It Is What It Is, Thundercat (Brainfeeder, April 2020)

Thundercat (a.k.a. Stephen Bruner) is a widely respected bassist, songwriter, and performer. His debut album, Golden Age of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder) in 2011, launched his solo career. Since then, he has released two studio albums and is featured in numerous collaborations with the likes of Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar, and the late Mac Miller.

It Is What It Is marks a return in a way to his breakthrough debut. The melody, vocals, and songwriting make for perhaps his most accessible album. Unlike Apocalypse (Brainfeeder, 2013) and Drunk (Brainfeeder 2017), this release features several full-length tracks with more conventional structures and production choices. It should be noted, “conventional” in the context of a Thundercat record is still delightfully several degrees askew.

The first single, “Dragonball Durag” showcases what I mean on melody and songwriting. Bruner has cultivated a signature sound with his falsetto vocals and playful production choices grounded in a velvety low end. There’s an AOR vibe about this record. “Black Qualls” disguises complex arrangements and song structure in a thoroughly enjoyable 3-minute song.

Bruner’s frenzied solo prowess and his signature Thundercat bass sound are showcased on “How Sway” and “Unrequited Love.” “King of The Hill” is a particularly original track, alternatively haunting and soothing.

Thundercat can always be counted on to bring something new to the intersection of funk, jazz, and R&B. With It Is What It Is, he delivers in his weirdly groovy way.