Thundercat - 'It Is What It Is' Album Review
By Cam Cade
Thundercat’s new album is here. I have poured my heart out to many people about this man, especially his production on one of my favourite albums of all time, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Not to undersell his other work which is equally brilliant. It Is What It Is continues this trend, with a darker feel compared to his previous work.
This album takes the funky sound that Thundercat is known for and injects the more jazz-infused side of his work to much greater prominence. This creates a much darker tone compared to his previous work, the reason for this change becomes much clearer as the tracks go on. Even with songs like 'Dragonball Durag' and a Zack Fox feature which inject some levity into the album halfway through, the darkness quickly returns. 'Black Qualls' is one of the standout tracks of this album, using its features to make up for one of the biggest problems I had with this album, Thundercat's vocal performance. This doesn't mean his vocal performance is bad; songs like 'Dragonball Durag' highlight why his vocals usually resonate. However, my issue with the performance is that his vocals feel very "one-note" there's not much variation in the vocals and how he performs him. This isn't a major issue in the grand scheme of thing since, for the most part, the vocals are not the important or frontline aspects of the album. Also, this song highlights the similarity to the production work done on To Pimp a Butterfly especially in the chorus. It would be difficult to talk about Thundercat without discussing the bass on these tracks. Thundercat is a masterful performer and the bass is often the highlight of songs on this album, performing incredibly complex and fast runs down the fretboard. Not only is his playing on this album complex but masterfully placed with sensibility, never overdoing it. In addition, the tones that Thundercat creates for his bass on this album really make your head rock, from the punchy bass-heavy tones that underlay tracks to the sci-fi funk sounding wah bass effect The album closes with the title track, revealing the reason for the darker tone of the album. “Hey, Mac” is the line spoken by Thundercat uncovering where this darkness has come from,,,, his friend Mac Miller's passing. Not only is this song the truest reflection of this album it is also one of my favourites. Its ethereal piano and bass instrumental that is then joined by a jazzy drum creates this feeling of an out of body experience as the album comes to a close. Like an action movie with a mediocre second act, this album retroactively makes the previous songs more enjoyable once you reach that phenomenal third act. In the album's case, the third act is the track 'It Is What It Is'. When you make an album that is 15 songs long it can be difficult for listeners to maintain focus or consistently resonate with every song. However, the shorter album length in minutes makes up for this as the songs you want to hear more of are much longer and many of the less interesting tracks are finished before you realise you want to move on. Besides, finishing with the phenomenal title track helps those more forgettable tracks become more enjoyable. Overall, this album shows that Thundercat is one of the best producers working. Additionally, the artisanal bass playing from the performer is a constant standout and will forever be enjoyable to listen to. However, with some tracks that are more forgettable than others, the album left me feeling a bit incomplete in general, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this album and consider it's highs to be some of Thundercat's best work.
Listen to the album below: