Album Reviews

Album Review: Thundercat - It Is What It Is (Brainfeeder Records)

Sam Smith

After a three-year absence, Brainfeeder ninja Thundercat is back with a fresh new album It Is What It Is. After finding his niche on the 2017 record Drunk which saw him move between soft rock, jazz fusion, and psychedelic funk, the cat continues this successful formula on It Is What It Is, and as per usual he has some friends helping him out.

After forging a strong reputation as a bass player and producer, collaborating with the likes of Flying Lotus, who co-produces this record, Kendrick Lamar, and Kamasi Washington, Thundercat is now quickly establishing himself as a gifted solo artist in his own right. It Is What It Is, is the next step in this process and sees him continuing to explore different musical styles and composition structures.

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Innerstellar Love is a psychedelic space jazz epic featuring some excellent sax work from regular collaborator Kamasi Washington, while I Love Louis Cole is an exercise in prog excess complete with a pounding drum backbeat and flourishes of bass wizardry from Thundercat himself.

The main single Black Qualls features a stellar all-star cast that includes Steve Arrington, Steve Lacy and Childish Gambino in what is a p-funk-esque track that sounds as if it could have been recorded in the 70s, while on Funny Thing Thundercat channels his soft rock side, perhaps in a nod to Michael McDonald who featured on Drunk.

Dragonball Durag is an ode to the cat’s love of Japanese anime TV series Dragon Ball Z, a theme he did explore on his last album and continues here with great results. Meanwhile, King Of The Hill features Toronto jazz group BadBadNotGood in what is an undoubted album highlight, proving again Thundercat’s flexibility in working with many of his contemporaries in the jazz field.

Thundercat also has time to show off his tender side on It Is What It Is, especially with the track Fair Chance. Featuring rappers Lil B and Ty Dolla $ign on vocals, Fair Chance is a tribute to the late rapper Mac Miller and is one of Thundercat’s most heartful songs, proving a pleasant addition to proceedings.

After a disjointed and lengthy Drunk, It Is What It Is is a step up for Thundercat. This project is more concise and focused making for a better listen overall. He has retained all the key ingredients from Drunk both in terms of musical style, composition, and having the right number of featured guests, while shortening the length of this project has really made a big difference.

Having done the hard work to get to this position in his solo career, with It Is What It Is, Thundercat can finally step out of the shadow as being simply a sideman with a fledgling solo career and in turn, now become a full-blown solo artist in his own right. His time is now and with this project, he is ready to claim some of the spotlight for himself.

Stream or purchase Thundercat's It Is What It Is here.

Written By: Sam Smith When he is not writing for Radio 13 Sam works in media and journalism at 95bFM radio and the University of Auckland. He also has is own personal music blog Nowhere Bros.