REVIEW: Thundercat – It Is What It Is

First thing I did before I signed up for this review was check the length. There was no way I could deal with another Flamagra or Our Pathetic Age.

15 songs. 37 minutes.

That will do nicely Mr Cat. If I could buy flour anywhere I could have a freshly baked soda bread whipped up from scratch in that time.

Now where was I?

Oh yes. So with Thudercat I am expecting some good bass playing. And he doesn’t wait around for that. There are some perhaps surprisingly traditional jazzy sounds on ‘Interstellar Love’, and a wonderful saxophone sound.

But it’s not until ‘I Love Louis Cole’ that it feels like the album has really begun. It’s the first thing that sounds like a proper song. The counterpoint between the frantic rhythm section and the long soaring vocals is a marvel to listen to.

This is before he switches mood and pace entirely and goes full funky. I have no idea who Louis Cole is and no interest in his relationship with Thundercat. What I do know is the way they jump together from I Love Louis Cole to the intro of ‘Black Qualls’ is mind blowing.

I’m sure this album is full of other important guest appearances aside from Louis Cole but this reviewer has not done the research on this occasion.

Next up is ‘How Sway’. It’s only a minute and a bit long but manages to contain enough notes for a full length song. He even has room to sneak in the noise from the start of ‘Long Hot Summer’ by The Style Council. Thundercat repeats the same contrast trick between this and ‘Funny Thing’ – from rapid to funky in the blink of a semiquaver’s eye.

Thundercat is going all out on It Is What It Is to demonstrate his versatility and growing confidence as a performer and a songwriter.

And confident he is. You’ve got to have some balls to write a song that is essentially one musical idea repeated throughout. It better bloody good. On ‘Dragonball Durag’ he does exactly this. He’s proved he can play all the notes as fast as humanly possible but he’s also shown how a simple groove can be just as, if not more, effective.

I’d be really interested to see how he performs all these micro-songs live. As some sort of medley they would likely work better than they do in the context of this album as a whole where they leave a feeling of disjointedness. The micro-songs draw you in, shake you up, but then leave you high and dry before you even know what’s happened to you. But then towards the end of the album we get a group of longer slower songs that do very little and are far less interesting. I’ve had my little dig at overly long albums so I guess I can’t have it both ways.

It’s taken me a while to finish this review and in part it was because it felt like I was listening to a different album each time I came back to it. I even got up once to check Spotify hadn’t done something weird like play on shuffle or play a queue of Thudercat tunes. There’s so much in there to process in each song and so much contrast from one to the next. It’s such a lively mixture, like the lockdown sourdough starter in my imagination (seriously, if you know where I can get bread flour, DM me). But in the end the album, like this review, and the imaginary loaf, the expectation you build up waiting for something for so long, doesn’t quite match what you wanted. Sorry Mr Cat, it is what it is.

Words by James Spearing

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