Thundercat – It Is What It Is (sealed red vinyl UK import)
“It’s been a while, but I’m down ’til I’m out and it is what it is ’til it ain’t.” So preached Mac Miller on 2018’s Swimming. A month after the album was released, the beloved Miller died from an accidental overdose, compelling Thundercat, bassist and co-writer on the quoted track, to cope again with loss and mortality as he made the follow-up to Drunk. Those themes coursed through much of Thundercat’s 2010s work — most perceptibly on Apocalypse, recorded after the death of another close friend and collaborator, Austin Peralta — and continue on his first LP of the 2020s, co-produced by trusty partner Flying Lotus. Thundercat is most open on “Fair Chance,” flanked by fellow Miller comrades Ty Dolla $ign and Lil B, grieving in downcast falsetto, “So hard to get over it, I’ve tried to get under it/Stuck in between, it is what it is.” The album’s title is repeated across the variegated yet flowing sequence, utilized as either a mantra or verbal spackle, always in tribute. Just as moving is Thundercat’s heart-in-throat salutation in the closing title track, briefly stated just before his bass intertwines with Pedro Martins‘ guitar to gorgeous effect. As on the earlier Thundercat LPs, outer space and homeboy escapades, comic courtship and elusive companionship, and philosophical insights also inform the material. In the churning “Innerstellar Love,” featuring Kamasi Washington‘s blazing saxophone, Thundercat croons “Nothing is yours, nothing is mine/We all decay over time” like a tragic-romantic Roy Ayers. The surreal psych-funk Badbadnotgood meeting “King of the Hill,” originally a Brainfeeder X highlight, falls snugly into place and functions as a cautionary flip side to the bobbing “Black Qualls,” a conscientious ballers’ anthem graced by Dayton funk demigod Steve Arrington. There are no throwaways or novelty tunes. The tender-rocking “Dragonball Durag” is full of humor but too thoughtfully written and endearing to be disregarded as either. “How Sway” is a warp-speed instrumental comprehended only by those who were raised on fusion records and Japanese video games, yet it’s an ideal setup for the whomping revelry tale “Funny Thing.” Cartoonishly puttering and seemingly off-the-dome, “Miguel’s Happy Dance” provides heartfelt solace: “Dancin’ away the pain, it’s gonna be all right.” That might be the paramount message here. Mint.
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