Album Review: Thundercat, Apocalypse

It was interesting watching the response to channel ORANGE, the debut studio album of Frank Ocean, this time last year. Fans talked about “weird” while critics talked about “idiosyncratic”. Music had dwindled to the point that we had to remark on the fact that an artist recorded an album relative to his own personality. Or perhaps it was the first time in an unfortunately long while that we were as interested in an artist as much as his tunes, the latter seemingly providing a conduit to the other.Stephen Bruner a.k.a. Thundercat‘s new album Apocalypse, co-produced by experimentalist ace Flying Lotus, is similarly a sombre collection of images accompanied by a lush, kaleidoscopic soundscape. The difference being that Bruner is nowhere near as concerned with narrative and his songs come from his own experiences more than his imagination. As a result the emotional stakes are higher and the catharsis reached is more satisfying. The album is also far more musically dexterous than the aforementioned. But while Bruner’s bass playing is masterful, he has the good sense to let it function as ancillary to the song as a whole and not as a virtuosic distraction.The melancholic ruminations of “Tenfold”, “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” and “Evangelion” are sung in sweet falsetto against a backdrop of sounds that pulse and flourish. Bruner is always thoughtful and never lugubrious, like on the spaced-out lounge funk of “Without You” or the lush jazz-fusion of “Lotus And The Jondy”. The drums are crisp and the bass is velvety, with silvery guitars and glittery synths fleshing the songs out wonderfully. While we could have been spared the instrumental filler of “The Life Aquatic” and “Seven”, the respite they provide from the charged emotion of the album’s lyrics is not unwelcome.The closing track, a three-part suite titled “A Message for Austin / Praise the Lord / Enter the Void”, serves as a fitting metaphor for the album as a whole. It is deep, personal, atmospheric, groove-focused and yes, idiosyncratic. It’s a 12-track phantasmagoria anchored by a very much beating and loving heart.by Greg Moskovitch

June 12th 2013
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