Music Column: Thundercat, taste and defending your musical preferences

Music Column: Thundercat, taste and defending your musical preferences
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Thundercat, or Stephen Bruner in less funkified terms, is a bass guitarist that can undeniably envoke feelings of sly coolness on any listener. Listening to his new album “Drunk” feels almost deliriously and deviously stylish, but in an obscure says the phrase “too cool for school” way. 

Bruner has become an established force as a producer. There’s this quality of detailed funk that smooths any creases between varying components in any track he touches with his keen eye and groovy style. Bruner aided production of Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly,” and his superfly bass finesse can be found on “Wesley’s Theory” and “These Walls.” Lamar also featured the bassist on “DAMN.” and “untitled unmastered.” If that’s not enough, he has produced tracks by Childish Gambino, Mac Miller, ScHoolboy Q, Erykah Badu and N.E.R.D.

“Drunk” is Bruner’s own exploration of the varied capabilities of his jazzy preferences and creatively poignant and humorous lyrical style. 

The track “Friend Zone” is an unpredictable and conversational take that makes a seemingly mundane and trite pop culture idea, or term, relevant and exciting. Sonically, the track is entertainingly groovy and danceable, but the lyrics are almost an aloe-worthy sick burn: “If you're not bringing tacos I suggest you start to walk away/Bitch don't kill my vibe/I can tell you've kinda got uncomfortable/So let me break it down for you/Don't call me, don't text me, after 2am/Unless you’re planning to give me some/Cause I have enough friends.”

The album was released last Valentine’s Day to immense hype, rather warranted by his extensive background in music. Pitchfork released an interview with Bruner on the same day, which discussed Bruner’s thought on being in the Friend Zone, Valentine’s Day and break-ups. The interview resulted in one of my favorite quotes from Pitchfork, ever: 

“The truth is, and this may sound silly, you can tell the person you’re talking to by the person they listen to. A lot of the times that can be a way of looking at the person. You ever been in the car with someone and they put a song on and you just want to slap the shit out of them? What part of this is speaking to what part of you? When it didn’t work out, you’re like,*I remember that one time she played that one song and I almost jumped out of the car*. [Laughs] At the same time, you don’t want to be fickle or [act like] you can’t put up with the differences, but there has to be some similarities. You got to vibe with that person.”

While I unequivocally agree with Bruner in that you can gain a wealth of knowledge from others based on the music that they listen to at different points in their life, you can learn more from how someone defends their musical tastes.

In a recent Noisey article, Daisy Jones considers the idea of good taste and how to decide if one has this elusive ideal that seems paramount and impossible. Music is as subjective as it gets. It’s entirely driven by the individual and their experiences. Studies have shown that your cultural landscape and personality traits direct your musical preferences, but your current mood and situational setting can also affect your opinion of a song. 

This presents a difficult barrier in determining what good taste is. The idea of “Good Taste” can’t be summed up in one overarching ideal list of preferences. 

After reading this article, I began to think about the people that I know to possess superior music taste. One thing rings true about these individuals: they have remarkably brilliant and fully formed thoughts on why they like the music they do. Their arguments are so convincing that they can change my opinion about artists or songs I’ve written off, or they make me see an artist in a new light. 

To me, good taste is taste that has a reason. If it can be defended and holds weight for the individual, it’s great taste. The word “taste” is starting to sound like a fake word as I continue to think about it and write it and grapple with its meaning, so I’ll shut this down before I lose control.

In keeping with Thundercat, or Bruner, surround yourself with people that are immensely passionate about art that means the world to them. They will always teach you and shed new light because of their immense individuality and good taste.

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