Review: The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam by Thundercat
Stephen Bruner's 15 Minute Mini Album Release
W!ZARD News AuthorTweet
Feeling particularly angsty and disillusioned with modern pop music, I stumbled across Thundercat’s surprise EP release, The Beyond/ Where the Giants Roam.
The mini-album is 15 minutes of bliss, a meandering collection of jazz fusion tracks shot through with sadness. If jazz isn’t your thing, stick with me! The EP is very approachable, and almost anyone can find something to love about it.
Thundercat also goes by the name of Stephen Bruner, and spends most of his time as a virtuoso bass player. He helped shape the sound of Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly, and he’s also a regular collaborator with producer and rapper Flying Lotus. He’s also a little bit crazy, and often turns up on stage draped in wolf skin.
Bruner has already released two solo albums, but neither of them have been as compelling as his latest EP. Written in the aftershock of the brutal death of a close friend, this collection of songs is a gentle exploration of mourning and the afterlife.
Bruner confesses in otherworldly falsetto that it’s time to ‘shed some skin’ and ‘transform this decaying flesh’ on stripped back opener ‘Hard Times’. ‘Song for the Dead’ hauntingly recounts the journey of dead souls to the afterlife with lyrical perfection (‘weary soul/travel safe/Star Express’), whilst the final track alludes to the Nephilim, legendary home of fallen angels.
Despite the lyrical content, these tracks are more likely to leave the listener feeling peaceful rather than miserable. Halfway through ‘Song for the Dead’, the instrumentation takes a sonic turn, as we’re swept up in an electronic wave of sound liable to give you goosebumps. The closing track is characterised by tinkling piano and the gentle throb of electronic bass.
The tone is lighter on stand out track ‘Them Changes’, a would-be single with a modest swagger built around a fabulous bass riff. Lyrically, it’s a typical break-up song, but the usual clichés sound fresh when coupled with the track’s jazz funk groove and the odd noises Bruner manages to make with his guitar. There’s also the most understated saxophone solo in the world; the song fades out just as it gets going. Somewhere a saxophonist is fuming, robbed of his moment of glory.
‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ is a chilled five minute jazz track, and it’s obvious to see how some people could get bored of it. The lyrics leave a little to be desired, (‘wolf and cub,/ wolf and cub, wolf and cub/ On your own/ on you own, on your own/ etc.’), and Bruner’s vocals eventually just drift off into the ether to be replaced by an equally repetitive bass riff.
Initially, I found myself nodding off during the lengthy instrumental outro, but now it’s one of my favourite parts of the EP. The meandering way this song, and many of the others, are written provides a welcome break from the ruthless efficiency of certain pop singles. Over the shimmering bass and delicate guitar, you can hear ghostly backing vocals and a warbling counter melody if you listen hard enough.
The whole EP seems like an escape from the frantic pace of the real world. Bruner communicates his pain with a soothing melancholy that is the perfect antidote for all of our minor gripes and frustrations. For anyone looking for a break from their usual pop/rock tastes, this is an ideal listen.