There are two good reasons to title a song Existential Dread (“Existential dread”): to judge life tragic, or to resolve to find it colossally hairy. But is it only possible to feel one without the other? A somewhat educated rabbi – who would have spent more time reading Kafka than the Mishnah, let’s say – would say that it does not fold, that there is nothing else sensible to face the worst than faking it. And would perhaps recommend listening to the fourth album of Thundercat, an intimate crisis disc that comes out in the middle of the worst collective crisis that the world has known in seventy-five years and that makes hilarious at least as much as it cracks the heart.
“All I ever wanted to be was funky and funny” (“All I ever wanted was funky and funny”), explained Stephen Bruner to New york times at the end of March to recount the strangeness of his career, which led him in a decade from shadow bassist to pop star with a silhouette studded with multicolored accessories (hair extensions, plastic widgets), six-string bass in shoulder strap. Returning from Japan to his Los Angeles home a few days before the general confinement, the Californian told Release more readily the mourning and the galleys which considerably slowed down the flow of its creativity, to makeIt Is What It Is – album title and motto which appears in three of his songs, which could be translated by “Shikata ga nai” in Japanese, or “C’est la vie” in French – his most feverish and powerful record .
“The past year has been a wild ride on the emotional side. Full of brutal changes, some for the better, others really awful. I dialed non-stop and then I lost my friend James [le rappeur Mac Miller, ndlr]. I spent a lot of time learning to accept it. “ Life Is Like That, sang Memphis Slim in Chicago in the throes of the Great Depression; “I know I’ll be alright”, sits down to himself Thundercat in Existential Dread as the most tragic – and funniest – wishful thinking.
All It Is What It Is is like that, sweeter and more bitter, less delusional and less baroque too. Almost “normal” funky jazzy soul pop soft, within the unreasonable limits of what weirdo with serious tastes, whose music is very zicos in the same way that we like Aja of Steely Dan or milk chocolate, saying that there is nothing wrong with doing good, come on. Bruner agrees: “I think there is more clarity and emotion in this record. I know it is different from the previous ones, although I would be hard pressed to say how and why. “ Even this titled zappaesque interlude How Sway, overflow of notes aligned with very complicated scales, tastes like a bitter passion fruit cocktail rather than a big cupcake with a sweet taste. Or this atomic stupidity in duet with the virtuoso Louis Cole, titled stupidly I Love Louis Cole and pulsed by a speeded drums played by his brother, Ronald Bruner Jr (in memory of the time when they formed together the rhythm section of the mythical hardcore thrash combo Suicidal Tendencies?), which ends up spinning tears to the eye – c was it, the last time we heard such a beautiful hymn to friendship?
For clips, however, it’s always a different story. That of Dragonball Durag, revealed in February, transforms this sexy hymn to weirdos the least spoiled hood (the durag is this fetish cloth headgear of the African-American community, eminently political and adored by rappers in 90’s) in historyincel uneasy, string of sketches in which Thundercat himself wooing women of the most creepy ways. Earlier (in 2014), in a hyper aggressive video made by comedian Eric Andre, Bruner shot himself in the head with a pistol unearthed in the litter of his cat, Tron (who remains to this day his best friend and his main source of inspiration). By force, is he not afraid of blurring the message too much, of damaging his songs and his reputation, that of one of the most bubbling talents of the new Californian jazz scene, which has done so much in the shadows for the canonization in new major voices of Kendrick Lamar or Flying Lotus? “I don’t think it ruins anything.” Some of my favorite musicians, like Frank Zappa, were absolutely hilarious. And some of my favorite comics are incredible musicians, like Steve Martin or Chevy Chase. When I listen to jazz, I hear a thousand things, but often jokes. “
It Is What It Is, so tragicomedy? Right balance, rather, for Stephen Bruner, and the best way to embrace anything that would otherwise sclerose his art – embarrassment, pain, unbearable. “Sometimes when I sing behind the microphone, I laugh because it’s too intense. Laughter is the best emotion there is. Even when it’s to keep from crying. “ And then laughter is political. A golden weapon when you are born on the wrong side of society. Bruner’s favorite funny story is known. It concerns Miles Davis, and many place it more readily in the dramatic category of famous anecdotes of popular music. “The guy was the headliner of a concert. At one point he goes out to smoke a cigarette. And cops who pass by break his face because he’s black. The people from the club had to go out and point his name on the marquise. The cops shrugged – oops! – and Miles returned to the club to play his concert. This story could not have existed anywhere other than a horrible reality. But it’s so funny – being beaten up by the police and playing a killer set, hungry! ” Some are decidedly better equipped than others to face the worst. Those who have been preparing for it all their lives. Those who laugh at everything, all the time too. “Does the situation in my country make me laugh? Hell, yeah. I laugh at everything, bro. I’m black, don’t forget that. “
Thundercat It Is What It Is (Brainfeeder).