20 Best R&B Albums of 2017

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Thundercat, 'Drunk'
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10. Thundercat, 'Drunk'10/20

10. Thundercat, 'Drunk'

Drunk is the latest and greatest endpoint for ever-evolving Los Angeles bassist Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner, who has spent his solo career trying to find the lighthearted sweet spot between George Duke's jazz-funk and Michael McDonald's yacht rock. The latter's appearance (along with Kenny Loggins) on "Show You the Way" must be sweet validation for Bruner, who adeptly sidesteps goofy kitsch in favor of breezy sunshine grooves that update late Seventies-and-early-Eighties fusion for a generation open to whatever's fresh (and who have been prepped by his experimental peers in Los Angeles' Low End Theory scene). Most of all, Drunk is really funny. "You stuck me in the friend zone/That's that bullshit," he sings over dazzling synth stabs and keyboard bass on "Friend Zone." "Don't call me after 2 a.m. unless you givin' some/'Cause I got enough friends." Joking about reckless nights ("Tokyo") and a dedication to cats ("A Fan's Mail [Tron Song Suite II]") suggest a carefree life of international tours and artistic fervor. But the final three tracks – a suite that describes an alcoholic episode – adds a surprisingly dark undercurrent to Thundercat's delightful vision of funky self-expression. M.R.

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