“I can’t feel my face/ Where’s this cold dark place?/ This must be the end/ Time to shed some skin.”
These haunting lines open up Thundercat’s transient EP “The Beyond/ Where the Giants Roam.” The tone of the bassist’s newest release follows the path set forth by those opening lyrics and travels deep into the dark unknown of Thundercat’s psyche over a murky six-song set.
Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, has been stepping more into the public spotlight over the past year after key contributions to standout albums from Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” and Kamasi Washington’s “The Epic,” as well as recent past collaborations with Erykah Badu and Flying Lotus. He has found a niche melding R&B, electronica and psychedelia into a cosmic concoction with other artists, but “The Beyond/ Where the Giants Roam” allows Thundercat to make a statement about where he is musically and personally for the first time since his 2013 release “Apocalypse.”
It seems the man is trudging through the muck and mire of personal loss combined with the ongoing processing of recent racial tensions, based on Twitter remarks made shortly after the EP’s release. The vulnerable confusion is palpable throughout the album and the songs are airy and introspective, finding their way through the mist in real-time with Thundercat. What is striking about the flow of the album is how the songs drift together like passing thoughts; some songs are more developed and definite than others, but all are cohesive and integral to Thundercat’s overall emotional statement.
The opening track “Hard Times,” with its ominous proclamation over cold keyboard tones, and the following “Song for the Dead,” led by a mourning bass line, pass by quickly but their chilling tone are deeply resonate. “Them Changes” is the first song to feel like a complete thought and the murky, distorted bassline provides a solid foundation to build around. Piano and Thundercat’s crystallized vocals beautifully decorate the funky rhythm with Kamasi Washington flourishing over the track as it fades into the hazy “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Herbie Hancock and Flying Lotus add their talents to the song, which transitions from airy R&B to a slippery, ghostly vortex, as if Thundercat had finally dove into his conscious after contemplating the consequences from the edge of the abyss.
“The Beyond/ Where the Giants Roam” is an album that reveals an artist deeply affected by the world around him and has yet to make sense of it all. We get to delve into the fog with him and it is unclear when any of us will return.
“The Beyond/ Where the Giants Roam”
Release: July 2, 2015
Notable Tracks: “Them Changes,” “Lone Wolf and Cub”