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‘It Is What It Is’ is what it is — more of the same from virtuosic bassist Thundercat

‘It Is What It Is’ is what it is — more of the same from virtuosic bassist Thundercat

‘It Is What It Is’ is what it is — more of the same from virtuosic bassist Thundercat
April 17
18:00 2020

Stephen Bruner, also known as Thundercat, has lost a lot of weight since Mac Miller passed away. I’m not sure if it all contributes to the inevitable depression Bruner must be experiencing — the two of them were very close friends — but there’s no denying he misses his friend.

The prolific session musician and virtuoso bassist has been keeping himself busy by continuing to create the same kind of soulful R&B he’s always displayed through his solo work. On his fourth album, “It Is What It Is,” Bruner creates another jagged collection of songs that contemplate the meaning of life through goofiness, which has always come off as a defense mechanism for his true sadness.

Bruner’s music has always been rooted in jazz, soul, R&B and pop. This type of diversity is sure to come along when you have a career working with experimental electronic guru, Flying Lotus, or playing as a bassist and backup vocalist on the absolute masterpiece that is Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly.” It was only a matter of time before Bruner started off on his own trek, which began in 2011 and precedes some of his most prolific work.

2011’s “The Golden Age of Apocalypse” and 2013’s “Apocalypse” serve as entry points for Bruner’s eccentricities. They foray in and out of glitchy electronic instrumentals and falsetto-driven pop R&B, while jazz dissolves the rust in the gears of some of his more experimental tendencies. Flying Lotus would act as a sort of mage or companion to his sound.

His sound would be fully realized by 2015’s “Drunk,” a schizophrenic farce on the current state of R&B. The songs were the length of interludes most of the time, but also felt complete. It maintained Thundercat’s signature goofiness with more cohesion and interesting songwriting. Singles like “Show You the Way” enlisted the help of Kenny Loggins of “Footloose” fame and Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers to add flavor to each verse and push the busty beat along. At the same time, “Them Changes” would go on to be covered by Ariana Grande and “Walk on By” would recruit Kendrick Lamar. It was an album that was similar to late-night channel surfing.

In 2020, Thundercat doesn’t have much more to prove, so he releases “It Is What It Is,” an album similar to his past works. So similar, in fact, that it can almost be a fault at times.

The album’s opening sequence includes “Interstellar Love,” a spacey jazz-tinged odyssey with a saxophone solo from modern jazz savior Kamasi Washington. Washington knows how to make jazz accessible for the newer audiences, with Thundercat filling out the backlines of the song with his deep bass playing.

“I Love Louis Cole” is an upbeat pick-me-up with staccato strings keeping the drums in place like a ventriloquist while “Black Qualls” gets down and dirty with features from Steve Lacey, Steve Arrington and Childish Gambino. The song bounces with symbolic lyricism from Thundercat before going into a gorgeous swell towards the end. Gambino’s “Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop,” really hooks the listener as the instrumentals swirl around him. It is a highlight on the album.

The middle of the album is riddled with shorter throwaways like “Miguel’s Happy Dance,” which is fun and lighthearted, yet unnecessary. “How Sway” feels like a recyclable idea from the “Drunk” sessions and feels too similar to “Uh Uh,” a superior song featuring a barrage of jazz scales and arpeggios. A lot of the tracks feel recycled in a way and it can really bring the album’s true shimmer down.

On the other hand, the back half of the album contains some of Bruner’s most mature and reflective songwriting yet. The title track is an ode to Mac Miller, with the bass playing melancholy riffs reminiscent of a harp at times. “Fair Chance” has some of the most captivating production on the album with catchy hooks from Ty Dolla $ign and Lil B.

“It Is What It Is” may be more of the same from Thundercat, but it’s nice to have an album like it during quarantine. It can make you laugh or caress you with its soft, modest musings. I would’ve liked to see him evolve a bit more from the greatness of “Drunk,” but Thundercat is not going anywhere anytime soon. I look forward to the next outing from one of the best bass players in the business right now.

Final rating: 3/5

Featured image: Courtesy Motormouth Media

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Nick Lawrence

Nick Lawrence

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