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Put Thundercat and Sun Ra in your music blender

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Thundercat

bass player/song writer/singer from L.A. mixing funk, hip-hop and jazz all together in a psychedelic blender.

I’ve been pretty fascinated with Thundercat ever since I saw him play “Them Changes” on the former Comedy Central show, “Why with Hannibal Buress.” In my opinion, Bruner is the best bass guitar player out there right now; he does it all on a six string in a style with a lot of classical jazz guitar influence. He also happens to have a pretty solid voice that he tends to layer in his songs.

Stephen started in high school going on tour with Suicidal Tendencies, who I actually saw recently (it was a really fun show). I wouldn’t really put anything on Thundercat’s new release “Drunk” under the label of punk, but there is some punk influence here.

The new record from Thundercat called “Drunk” may be the best thing I’ve reviewed this year. One thing I really love about “Drunk” is that it feels like Bruner is just becoming more of himself, funkier, sillier.

It’s also nice to see Thundercat collaborating with some bigger names on here even if that work didn’t come out so well. Wiz Khalifa on “Drink Dat” felt like a forced pop song, which I just found obnoxious. Thundercat just doesn’t make pop music, and he really shouldn’t ever do this again. Pharrell’s vocals on “The Turn Down” are the worst part of the song; it just sounds like garbage. It’s boring and flat like a bad Nicholas Cage movie. The really good track features on here are the ones with Kendrick Lamar on “Walk on By” (also probably one of my favorite songs) and “Show You the Way” with Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. “Show You the Way,” one of the teaser songs, has this cheesy ’80s love song thing going on, and I’ve listened to it a lot just because I love the Michael McDonald part.

I was a little confused as to why “Them Changes” was put in here because it was on Thundercat’s last release, “Where the Giants Roam.” Although I’m not really going to complain about hearing it again, it feels like it was just there to fill time.

While I liked “Where the Giants Roam,” it wasn’t quite so interesting as “Drunk.” The absurdist theme, usually seen as non-emotional, fits into Thundercat’s sound without a loss of emotion. An example would be the bubbling basses in “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song II)” backed by a chorus of absurdity and cat noises. Some of Thundercat’s work is just full-on silliness like “Tokyo” with lines like “This all started when I was a boy. I went to the dentist and he gave me a toy. It was Dragon Ball Z, a wrist slap bracelet. Goku fucking ruined me.”

My favorite song on here is probably “Friend Zone,” a song about a guy who wants to get closer to a woman but is lost in the friend zone (which isn’t a fun experience). This song is crazy salty which I think is pretty funny; the song also just happens to ooze funkiness with some pretty crazy synth going on in the background.

Really everything on here is worth listening to and something you haven’t heard before. I feel like I should point out “Captain Stupido,” “Jameel’s Space Ride” and “Bus in These Streets” as good examples of what Thundercat is capable of.

I really like “Drunk” if that hasn’t been made obvious. I like that it’s not overly serious, but it still showcases a lot of talent. I think this also ends up being Thundercat’s most accessible record so far, and right now my favorite one, which is weird because those two never line up.

Sun Ra

I think it’s a crime that people can listen to hip-hop, or jazz, but not know who Sun Ra is. Sun Ra was Funky 15 years before funk was even a thing, Sun Ra also has a lot of silliness just like Thundercat. Everything about Sun Ra is absurd except for his ability to make music.

Sun Ra has a sci-fi theme to a lot of his work; he dresses as if he were a person from another world in a movie with a costume budget of $200. His music though is jazz with an injection of Sun Ra’s off-kilter personality.

I honestly haven’t done as much listening to Sun Ra as I would have liked, so I’m going to focus on just a few albums I’ve listened to. That would be “Super Sonic Jazz,” “The Futuristic Sounds Of Sun Ra,” “Space Is The Place,” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

“Super Sonic Jazz” is pretty tame as far as what he would go on to make. “Super Sonic Jazz” was really important because he was using electric pianos before anyone else in the jazz genre; this was before the Rhodes was ever made. The only song that really pops out much to me is “India.” Besides that the rest is a lot of improvisation and experimentation that is definitely worth listening to. The personality is here, but Sun Ra hasn’t quite come into his own yet.

 

Ten records and five years later, we have “The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra.” He’s obviously moving forward towards something better but again doesn’t quite break molds like he does later. There are some vocals thrown in, the production value is better, and it’s not so dependent on the electric piano.

From what I know, “Space is the Place” is the record where Sun Ra really became himself. The drums are funkier, there are more vocals, it just feels human. The first song is a 20 minute jam with the same name as the album; it’s definitely the best thing on here. The second song goes back to being normal jazz, followed by a song which is chaos, fun to listen to, but nothing I’m going to go back to. The record ends with “Rocket Number Nine,” which is really chaotic, but I think it’s memorable because of the weird synths and rushing vocals. This record was also extended later on to be the soundtrack for a movie called “Space is the Place” which is about Sun Ra trying to take the black people of earth to a different planet through music.

In my opinion, the best record Sun Ra made was “Sleeping Beauty.” It’s just really peaceful, while still fitting a lot of funk and personality into it. I would also say this is the only Sun Ra record I will go back to, for each song on it. The first song “Springtime Again” is just so relaxing that I love it even though it doesn’t do much that is all that interesting. “Door to the Cosmos,” which obviously affected a lot of hip-hop, is nonchalant yet punchy within a dreamy space. “Sleeping Beauty,” the last song on here hits on a lot more real themes than most of his music, talking about how “without prince charming there’s nothing black beauty can do.” It points out how people will wait for some leader to save them, in this case from racism.

Sun Ra’s importance depends on the music you listen to. If you like country or pop, he had no influence on what you listen to. Sun Ra affected hip hop and funk mostly. He’s been sampled by Doom, Death Grips, and a bunch of other rappers I really don’t care about. Sun Ra hasn’t really been well known, so a lot of his influence was indirect, but he did lay down the groundwork for hip-hop and funk. I think he’s really interesting, and worthy of being seen at least alongside the other jazz greats of the era.