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Thundercat: The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam

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Stephen Bruner, a.k.a. Thundercat, is a genuine artist. We know this because at a pivotal, spotlight moment in his career-right on the heels of his vital contributions to a trio of magnificent recordings by Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington-he offers up this six-song, 16-minute meditation on death that ratchets down the glitz and hedonism of his previous work. It probably won’t appeal instantly to fans of those aforementioned albums, as it confounds expectations. But it is beautifully sad, beguiling music.

The bassist-producer has explained that the “mini-album,” released digitally last year and newly available on vinyl, is his reaction to the recent death of close friends, and his dolor over the spike in racial strife in this country. The opener, the 73-second “Hard Times,” is an ethereal blend of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and the ’90s R&B group P.M. Dawn in its gauzy grandeur, the high harmonies declaiming, “Time to shed some skin/Transform this decaying flesh.”

JT readers will be most interested to learn that the saxophone of Kamasi Washington appears for all of 15 seconds, as a stirring but fading dissolve to close “Them Changes,” a despairing song of heart-steal more than heart-break that has some gorgeously featherbedded keyboard licks reminiscent of Stevie Wonder. The other heavyweight “jazz” artist, Herbie Hancock, gets much more space on the hypnotic “Lone Wolf and Cub”-which, at 5:29, encompasses more than a third of the music-with his swirling, gently spazzed electric keyboard riffs variously hovering above and passing through Thundercat’s bass ostinato.

The mordant theme of The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam is similar to FlyLo’s You’re Dead! but much less playful. This is eulogy as musical tone poem, and as you bathe in its ambiance, it is only a little troubling how easy it is to rest in peace.

Originally Published