The Los Angeles native Stephen Bruner, better known professionally as Thundercat, has finally released his latest album. The project, titled It Is What It Is, is Bruner’s first album release since 2017’s Drunk. This brand new project features artists including Flying Lotus, Childish Gambino, Steve Lacy, Ty Dolla $ign, and even Lil B. The project contains 15 tracks for our listening pleasure.
At this point, you’ve probably heard numerous tracks that Thundercat has worked on without knowing it. He has become quite the acclaimed artist, working with Kendrick Lamar extensively on To Pimp A Butterfly, Untitled Unmastered, and DAMN. He’s also worked with Mac Miller, Kali Uchis, Vic Mensa, Erykah Badu, Jhene Aiko, and many more. For more information on Thundercat’s career, check out this very informative and well-written guide.
Since I discovered Thundercat via his collaborations with Kendrick Lamar’s and Bruner’s own song “Oh Sheit It’s X”, I’ve been a huge fan. His bass playing, funky vibe, and beautiful singing voice have kept me hooked. I’ve been anticipating this album since it was announced in early 2020 and now it’s finally here. Here’s my It Is What It Is review.
Upon my first listen to the album, I’m really feeling it. The production is up to the usual Thundercat standards, with sounds of funk, jazz, hip hop, and R&B. The project feels more mature in a way, which was a surprise to me. It still has that signature Thundercat goofiness on a few tracks (“Dragonball Durag”, “Overseas”), which I appreciate, but most of the tracks are more serious. The vocals are also great, with perfect layering on the beats and they sound as crisp as ever.
As I listen to It Is What It Is more, the more I begin to like it. Clocking in at only 37 minutes, the album is a quick listen compared to most that I review. But even in those 37 minutes, there is a lot to unpack especially in terms of the instrumentals. Each song perfectly transitions into the next, with the occasional instrumental interlude before we hear Bruner’s voice again. I’m okay with these interludes as they go to show that an artist can make an impact with tools other than their voice. Thundercat is an amazing bassist and he yet again shows that here.
Another thing that I enjoy on this project is the vocal performances of Thundercat and his collaborators. Thundercat, in my opinion, is one of the best singers out there right now. His voice can work on any track and he proves that on this album. It doesn’t matter who he collabs with, he finds a way to make the vocals work together. Some of the best features on this album come from Childish Gambino, Ty Dolla $ign, and Louis Cole. The rest is Thundercat solo and it doesn’t get boring at all.
The only complaint I have about the album after multiple listens is the length of some of the tracks. At multiple points, I really thought Thundercat was onto something with a track, and then it just ends. There are quite a few tracks that barely touch one minute and some that reach two minutes if we’re lucky. He’s been notorious for doing that since he started making music and it can get frustrating. I understand that it may be intentional a lot of the time, but some of the tracks are so beautiful that they deserve to be fleshed out. See “Existential Dread”, “Funny Thing”, and “How I Feel” for good examples of why this frustrates me.
On a project that is this high quality, it can be hard to choose the ones that stand out the most. But for me, this is easy on It Is What It Is. The tracks that standout the most on this album are “I Love Louis Cole”, “Black Qualls”, “Funny Thing”, “Dragonball Durag”, and “King Of The Hill”.
If you couldn’t tell from the “review” section, I absolutely love It Is What It Is. I’ve been on the Thundercat wave for a minute now, but it’s projects like this that really solidify his place in my music rotation. For some people, his music may be a bit inaccessible due to how “weird” it seems on the surface. That doesn’t change with this album and it may be a bit off-putting to the casual listener. But that doesn’t discount the fact that this is one of the better albums we’ve seen this year.
Once again, Thundercat has created an album that shows exactly who he is. He is an eccentric, but super talented, artist who does what he wants. With his mix of instrumentation, beautiful singing, and collaboration, he has created music that is all original and a joy to listen to. I’m proud to say that this album is one of the best of 2020 thus far and I’ll have it on repeat. It isn’t perfect by any means (few albums are), but it is super fun to listen to and you can just groove to it. Give this a listen if you want to push your musical boundaries a bit, you won’t be disappointed.
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