Even a month before its release, Stephen Bruner’s latest album made an impression with its cover art.

The bassist himself is pictured at point-blank range, his face half-submerged in a pool of what could either be water or wine, his eyes wide and wild. With its film-like grain and retro title card, the album art would be at home in a bin of the ‘70s funk and jazz vinyls that influenced it. Meanwhile, the distorted expression on the artist’s face suggests a terror that borders on comic.

The music follows suit: even when the state of the world terrifies on so many levels, Bruner chooses to revel in the absurdity of it all. On “Drunk,” he keeps things goofy when his surroundings are anything but.

The result is a sprawling opus and the solo breakout for a musician who has been one of the key conspirators in so many of the biggest moments in hip hop in the last ten years. Bruner, a.k.a. Thundercat, began as a member of L.A. thrash metal band Suicidal Tendencies, then raised his profile as a session musician for artists like Erykah Badu and Flying Lotus. The release of the latter’s “Cosmogramma” in 2010 launched a creative partnership that continues to this day, the two sharing Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder record label. It’s hard to imagine the sound of one without the other close behind, whether in FlyLo’s frenetic production or in Bruner’s noodling bass.

He found another creative complement in Kendrick Lamar, becoming a main architect in Lamar’s 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Months later, with the release of the EP “The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam,” Bruner scored a minor crossover hit with “Them Changes,” whose springy, P-Funk-indebted groove established the bassist with a voice of his own. Interestingly, although the song is nearly two years old, Bruner chose to include “Them Changes” on the final tracklist of “Drunk.” If anything, the move enhances rather than disrupts the album’s cohesiveness, providing a grounding point for “Drunk”’s spacey digressions. The one-two punch of single “Friend Zone” and “Them Changes,” as well, forms a high point on the album, a gem buried amid its back half.

And what a back half it is—in total, the album comprises 23 tracks that spread over 51 minutes. This format gives Bruner full agency to indulge his inner weirdo, each track an off-the-wall vignette that rarely exceeds 3 minutes. Like J Dilla’s “Donuts,” “Drunk” lends itself to rediscovery. With every listen a new sonic element, whether a subtle keyboard texture or an isolated vocal line, reveals itself.

Tying these moments together, as suggested by the title, is the common thread of inebriation. “Let’s go hard, get drunk and travel down a rabbit hole,” Bruner implores on the first track.

“Drunk,” however, is no party record. It’s ridiculously, undeniably fun, but even when Bruner’s narrators—and the who’s who of guests he brings along for the ride, including Flying Lotus, Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa and (yes) Kenny Loggins—are getting wasted, they do so knowing that death, or worse, “the descent into madness,” could be looming around the corner. At the end of the night, so much about tomorrow remains unknown.

When Thundercat embarks on his trip, it’s a way of reconciling with a world that otherwise threatens to destroy him. His forays into downright silliness (actual lyric: “so many feels, bro / L-O-L”), geeky references (Mortal Kombat and Dragon Ball Z both get shoutouts) and escapist fantasies (“Show You the Way,” “Tokyo”) belie his consciousness of his surroundings. On “Jameel’s Space Ride,” he croons over chirping Nintendo synthesizers, “I want to go right, I’m safe on my block / Except for the cops / Will they attack? Would it be ‘cause I’m black?”

Lines such as these read like seeds of terror in a wandering mind that never fully develop—they’re delivered in the same cartoonish falsetto Bruner always uses, making their gravity that much more striking. Like the evocative cover art, Thundercat holds terror and humor in the same hand. Rather than let the fear weigh him down, Bruner chooses to go down that rabbit hole.

“Although it seems like it’s all crashing down, I just want to ride my bike,” he sings, just after wondering about the cops on his block. “Just let me ride off into space.”

On “Drunk,” he’s generous enough to take us along with him.