March 10, 2017
Inspired by Apocalypse Now and Herbie Hancock.
Thundercat has always approached music with an air of detached amusement. Before the release of his 2013 album Apocalypse, he drew comparison between the intricate, lightning fast keys of jazz pianist Chick Corea and the Mortal Kombat soundtrack, casually lobbing so-called ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture into the same carnivorous hotpot.
His fourth record, Drunk, does the same, treading a seemingly impossible line between virtuosity and frivolity, where his own sparky bass noodling is wild enough to have been plucked from an 8-bit video game.
It’s an aesthetic counterpoint which applies to the album’s extravagant packaging, landing as a 4×10″ box set several weeks after the music has been digitally digested.
Designed by Adam Stover, with brilliant, instantly recognisable Apocalypse Now-inspired photography by Eddie Alcazar, the sleeve and box set draws inspiration from Herbie Hancock’s soundtrack to the Michael Winner-directed Death Wish, a 1972 vigilante action film starring Charles Bronson, copies of which would have doubtless ended up in the bargain bin of your local Blockbuster.
Here was Herbie Hancock, equally at home in Miles Davis’ quintet and his own starry-eyed funk productions, creating music for a critically panned b-movie (once described as “an immoral threat to society”).
On Drunk, Thundercat does the same, juxtaposing the ability of his playing (the “jazz” that puts some people off) with something seemingly much more disarming and disposable. The inner sleeves are brilliantly silly, created by illustrator and ‘meme builder’ Zack Fox, who announced the collaboration on Twitter with the words: “i designed these fuck-ass vinyl sleeves for my big sister @Thundercat’s new album”.
But for all the frivolity, the music is astute, technically sound and conceptually brilliant. The artwork and packaging of the record capture this freedom to move between cultural levels with ease and pick from vernaculars that are equally valid, because the message at the root of it all is a poignant one. As Bruner told FACT recently: “I do think you have to laugh to keep from crying as a black man.”
Thundercat’s Drunk is out now on Brainfeeder. Check it out in more detail below and order your copy here.