With a Thundercat record, one basically knows what to expect at this stage: basslines and grooves that pay homage to classic funk, angular falsetto toplines and jazzy chord sequences that sound crunchy and virtuosic.
It Is What It Is opens with a trippy, beatless number with opening lines reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb (“hi, hello / is anybody there? / let me know if you can hear me”), before progressing to the intricate beats and squalling sax solo – courtesy of Kamasi Washington – of Innerstellar Love.
Thundercat was introduced to a wider audience through his frequent collaborations with Flying Lotus and the two share production credits on many tracks, including the exhilarating How Sway. A driving drum machine beat underpins rapid bass licks and synth arpeggios, the main melodic theme is pyramids of pitch ascending ever higher, and the incongruously laidback vocal adds another interesting angle. It’s only an interlude-length song, but feels much more substantial.
The record has a whimsical sense of humour to it, particularly Dragonball Durag which feels meme-esque in its subtle absurdity (“I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good / baby let me know, how do I look in my durag?”) over downtempo drums and a clavichord vamp. When Lil B, famed for making his career an extended comic bit, comes along for a lethargic guest verse on Last Chance, the pairing seems inevitable.
If there is a small gripe to be had, it’s that Thundercat’s use of the titular phrase in song lyrics starts to sound a bit forced after a couple of times, but this is minor in the scheme of things. It Is What It Is sparkles with inventive songwriting, chunky production and pervasive good vibes, a worthwhile addition to any R&B or jazz fan’s collection.