Album Reviews

Thundercat – The Golden Age of Apocalypse

on August 29, 2011, 8:00am
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Does anyone remember the last time jazz was this cool? Me neither. Five years ago, any mention of the genre would’ve sent the cool kids snickering back to the latest from LCD Soundsystem or The Strokes. And now, they’re the ones touting obscure Charles Mingus outtakes and hunting down first-run copies of Bitches Brew. What happened? Well, a lot of things, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to pin much of it on LA beat-alchemist Flying Lotus (too-often-spotlit Coltrane lineage aside). While his first two records set the stage for a whole host of cohorts and imitators in bass music, last year’s Cosmogramma was a truly singular record, the kind whose influence is sure to be felt for years to come. A big part of what tied it together, lending the LP the seismic weight that’s its most striking quality, was the presence of bass virtuoso Stephen Bruner who records and releases as Thundercat. From his nimble runs on “Pickled!” to the tight groove that pulses through “Satelllliiiiiiiteee” and his crooning guest spot on “MmmHmm”, Bruner’s mark is all over Cosmogramma, a record that highlights his strengths nearly as much as it does Lotus’. The Golden Age of Apocalypse, Thundercat’s first solo outing, sees Flying Lotus return the favor by producing the record, impressing upon it his own alien, proto-future jazz vision.

With a career’s worth of top-shelf session work with everyone from Snoop Dogg to neo-soul luminaries Erykah Badu and Bilal, time with a German boyband, and his full-time gig as bassist to thrash-fusion legends Suicidal Tendencies, Stephen Bruner’s debut solo recording has been a long time coming. Opening with a sample from the ’80s cartoon that Thundercat takes his name from, Apocalypse wastes no time dropping into the jagged, spacey cadence of “Daylight”. Naturally, the album’s first spoken line is the starry-eyed exclamation: “Open your mind!” Sparkling keys — courtesy of fellow Brainfeeder jazzman Austin Peralta — fill in the haze conjured up by FlyLo’s understated hand behind the scenes, while Bruner tries his best falsetto on for size (and yes, he pulls it off).

Just as he grounded Cosmogramma with his technical know-how last year, lending it major credence with snooty jazz-heads the world over, Bruner’s inordinate skill and poise make for a refreshing, memorable listen here. Equal parts futuristic space jazz fusion and hip-hop that does well to bridge the seemingly disparate corners of Thundercat’s sprawling resume, Apocalypse is one of those rare modern jazz records that’s remarkably unpretentious without having to cheapen the daunting complexity jazz is noted for. The record’s centerpiece comes in the form of a staggeringly gorgeous rework of George Duke’s 1975 funk-off “For Love (I Come)”, whose opening strains serve as a recurring motif throughout the album. Showcasing Bruner’s mad bass chops and a surprisingly delicate vocal turn, FlyLo’s tight production, and a stellar live band (who bring it all in marvelously with a dense jam in the track’s latter half), “For Love I Come” does better than perhaps any track to date out on Brainfeeder to spotlight how far-reaching the label’s work is getting to be. What’s next guys, polka?

Essential Tracks: “For Love I Come”, “Daylight”, “Is It Love?”

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