Non-serious and genre-less glee
Eccentric bass virtuoso and all-around mercurial musical madman, Thundercat has just released his 4th full-length LP within his solo canon – It Is What It Is. The indelible genre-bending and -blending album emits a weird concoction of jazz, soul, funk, psychedelic, R&B, electro-acid and other names not yet made that lie way beyond these labels. The music itself makes them futile. In this one, you find 15 scantly packaged songs with an overall runtime of 38 minutes brimming with creamy camp, impossible noises and satirical falsettos in collaboration with an eclectic cast of features like Childish Gambino, Steve Lacy, Ty Dolla $ign, Lil B, et al. As the artist says himself, “it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek” – and that is what it is, to the core.
Upon the first impression, “Lost in Space / Great Scott / 22-26” sets the tone of the album – Thundercat is in space supplicating for a response directed to the auditor – “is anybody there?/ let me know if you can hear me,” and, “you know it’s too late, you have already been sucked into the vortex and are in for a trippy treat. “Breathe for me,” as he entreats you to prepare for the start of a mind-altering journey over muffled morse-code-like synth notes, “is it time to go?/ go and start the show….” It feels like an entity is summoning him from the strange otherworldly realm where he resides and dreams his ideas into existence. It’s kind of puerilely messianic.
Ever-present, as always, is the inimitable Thundercat falsetto, but of absurd themes. “I remember you were punching my friends,” he reflects in “I Love Louis Cole” (which features Louis Cole), or when he sweetly and sternly urges you to “do the fucking happy dance” in “Miguel’s Happy Dance,” or his titillating seduction through “Imma keep on all my chains/ when I make love to you,” and, “I can meet you overseas/ we can do it on the plane,” in “Dragonball Durag” and “Overseas,” respectively. He even dabbles in the lurid with “there appears to be a shiny black man getting some sloppy toppy.”
If any of this doesn’t get to you, the ordained single, “Dragonball Durag,” will surely tickle your fancy. It’s downright just funny – he’s trying to copulate with a girl by the sole charm of his anime-themed durag. Instrumentally, it’s uber-funky and follows that ubiquitous ’70s song formula with the slow drum slaps and extreme sexual undertones. Especially set to the music, the lyrics seal it off as some premium camp. For example, “I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good” or “I feel kind of fly standing next to you/ baby girl, how do I look in my durag?” or, “did you wear that dress just for me?/ cause I’m trying to smash.” You can’t not smirk to that.
Within another notable track, the album detracts from the synth-intensive feel and ushers in some funk guitar and that signature too-many-strings-on-a-bass tonal range on “Black Qualls.” The feel gets all wild-styled and sporadic with what sounds like the score to an upcoming anime show with a fractal-patterned, MIDI-generated bassline. That tongue-in-cheekiness comes through here as Thundercat warns “don’t trigger my aggression baby,” and wonders, “is it just me or am I paranoid?”
All in all, It Is What It Is has a lackadaisical feel (in a good way) that reflects and even offers some empathy to the world-wide ennui, an antidote to the dizzying pandemonium that equals the speed at which the virulence disseminates. It’s a shame no one can even secretly envy the dragonball durag you acquired for the explicit purpose of having it be seen (IRL, at least), owing to the state of matters the globe finds itself in. Fret not though, the girl you would’ve failed to impress probably has COVID-19 anyways, so, kick back and try to emulate Thundercat, he seems to have figured out calm.