Stephen Bruner, the main mind behind Thundercat is no stranger. With a debut that was as danceable as it was hypnotizing, The Golden Age of Apocalypse left a large impression on any fan of jazz, soul or funk music. Even before his 2011 debut, Thundercat had already established his fantastic bass skill and vocal melodies through work on Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma LP, as well as Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Pt. 1. More recently, he has kept busy by assisting Flying Lotus on his otherworldly new record Until the Quiet Comes as well as touring with Austin Peralta, who sadly passed away late last year. 2013’s new arrival Apocalypse is an astral journey that touches on many stylistic areas from jazz and soul to funk and pop, making it Thundercat’s most diverse statement yet. Thundercat’s tenacity for playing bass isn’t the shining element on Apocalypse, rather it’s his ability to compose songs that not only feel transcending, but make the feeling last.
While The Golden Age Of Apocalypse was an engaging and modern take on jazz and funk, it doesn’t come close to some of the sonic exploration that is heard on Apocalypse. From the get-go with “Tenfold”, which sounds like an intergalactic launch into the unknown, Thundercat (along with Steve Ellison, a.k.a Flying Lotus who assisted production of the record) immediately sets the stage for a leisurely journey through the subconscious. The track is also driven by Bruner’s soft, George-Duke inspired croons which act to hook you in for a journey through the mind of Thundercat. Things loosen up with the soulful single “Heartbreaks and Setbacks” which is similar to tracks like “Daylight” off Thundercat’s debut, but is bursting at the seams with soul. These moments of sincerity, when combined with such sincere instrumentals make for one of the most memorable tracks on the LP. However, the journey must continue, and it does with the spacious atmospherics of the following track “The Life Aquatic”. With sparse but driving instrumentation, the track swirls along like a lone vessel in space trying to find its way before fading out in the distance. Though these moments are often less memorable they allow for a different experience with each listen through the listeners imagination. Similar moments are seen on the tracks “Seven” and “Evangelion”, which aren’t heavily instrumented, but are intriguing in their own ways.
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Thundercat’s ability to blend elements of jazz, funk and soul is still present on this record, but to a more efficient degree. With songs like “Special Stage”, it’s hard to say which genre drives the song more, and that’s because this is Thundercat’s unique blend. Speedy bass rhythms line the back of the song while a slew of electronics dance on top, making for a song that it equally danceable and relaxing when tied with Bruner’s gentle voice. A clear electronic influence is present on “Tron Song” with one of Ellison’s signature chopped beats, but is also kept in the vein of jazz through Bruner’s strong bass work. The stylistic mosaic is seen even clearer on the 2-part ode “A Message for Austin/Praise the Lord/Enter the Void” with a beginning that sounds like a song inspired from a Studio Ghibli soundtrack, but evolves as the song progresses. The earlier moments of the song are easily the most sincere on the record with lines like “Though you travelled beyond, your legacy lives on”. The single “We’ll Die” is another introspective moment on Apocalypse, which leaves a large impression given its subtle instrumentation and short length, and driven by lines like “Nothing lasts forever”.
Tied in with these moments of honesty are songs that are straight groovy, with “Lotus and Jondy” being on of the best examples. Driven by both Bruner’s voice and bass, it’s a song that certainly has an eeriness to it (“Walking through the forest straight tripping on the darkness”), but also a strong drive. It’s another example of how Thundercat’s music is danceable if you want it to be; that is until later in the song when a instrumental blitz takes place. Another single with an undeniable groove to it is “Oh Sheit It’s X”, a funk driven jam that features some of my favourite bass guitar on the record. The song even says in the lyrics “I just wanna party”. Is that not enough to get you moving? These louder moments don’t show up too much on Apocalypse, but that is part of what makes it such an eclectic and engaging listen. The way that Bruner and Ellison worked to blur stylistic boundaries on this record was done fantastically, making for a record that is explorative, but also cohesive enough to work as a whole.
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Thundercat has an obvious musical background with many experienced jazz players in his family, but is slowly putting himself in a league of his own. Its already well known that Bruner has experimented outside of jazz by playing bass for LA thrashers Suicidal Tendencies, but now he is keeping jazz as a last resort almost. Though jazz plays a significant role on Apocalypse, it is by no means the major player. Soul, funk, pop, electronic, and even ambient music all play equal or greater roles on this record as well. Not only is Apocalypse a journey through astral planes, but it is one that is open to the listeners imagination, much like the work of jazz great Sun Ra. It’s a record that is as calming as it is exhilarant, and is Thundercat’s most diverse release yet. So, if you’re interested in taking a trip down the ol’ rabbit hole, let me recommend this fantastic collection of tracks.
Buy Apocalypse from Brainfeeder
Rating: 4 / 5