Thundercat – The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam (Album Review)

thundercat

Thundercat has been so busy helping out other people that he’s been gathering much more recognition but also running the risk of being overshadowed by the artists he’s worked with in the past few years. He’s appeared on three of the best albums of 2014/15 like Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, Flying Lotus’ ‘You’re Dead!’ and Kamasi Washington’s ‘The Epic’. On all of these projects he’s had an amazing presence with his electric bass appearing time and time again and his vocals showing up for the latter two albums. With this being said it’s hardly surprising that this new mini-album seems to be a means to show off the fact that he is still very much alive and kicking in terms of solo material. Announced merely a few days before the album was released it seems like a taster to re-introduce Thundercat’s voice to his audience as well as introduce people who have only recently got on board with the current wave of fantastic Jazz influenced projects coming out recently.

With the exception of Kamasi Washington a lot of these new projects have been heavily influenced by Hip-Hop which is why there’s been a sudden wave of new fans, but the only time Thundercat ever panders to this crowd are in his Funk-influenced drum beats and basslines on the tracks ‘Them Changes’ and ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ which sometimes sound like they were taken straight from ‘TPAB’. Other than those moments Thundercat takes the chance to reassert himself as a solo artist and insert the finesse from his previous projects like the incredible ‘Golden Age Of Apocalypse’ into this miniature one. On this album Thundercat shows off his silky smooth falsetto vocals and luscious arrangements and although the album is a mini-one running a mere 16 minutes it carries the coherency and care of a full length album.

Much like his peers Thundercat sings of death, morality and occasionally heartbreak on this album with musical passages to go with it. Most of the time Thundercat simply breathes out the vocals to coincide with the serene atmosphere where he lays down breezy instrumentals with futuristic production. The songs don’t actually contain too many lyrics because he delivers his words so slowly and with precise care, like he’s letting the grooves carry his words away from him. This seems appropriate considering the fact that in the second song on the album, ‘Song For The Dead’ he softly sings ‘Close your eyes/Past your head/You’re Dead’, it’s a line that sounds like it could have been taken from Flying Lotus’ ‘You’re Dead!’ and this is unsurprising considering he said he wrote a large portion of this album while helping Flying Lotus with his. Compared to Flying Lotus’ frantic tale of the dead that poses so many questions, Thundercat offers more of an absolute answer and creates state of wonder suggesting that you could ‘Surf the cosmos’ and ‘Smell the space dust’ once you take the plunge into death.

This state of wonder continues in later songs on the album like the fantastic ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ featuring Miguel which has the gorgeous bass scales ascending and descending while eerie strings linger and swell behind them in the latter half of the song. It’s hypnotic music that’s intended to be lost in and shows what Thundercat does best – makes fantastic instrumentals. That’s especially true when he uses his vocals as an instrument like on the 43-second long ‘That Moment’ and has Thundercat gently howling over the top of a very minimal instrumental.

Thundercat is wonderfully diverse for the mere 16 minutes this album lasts, yet there’s a feeling that this album could have been something truly special had it been double the length. I know it’s as silly as complaining that an EP isn’t the length of an album, but the matter of the fact is with this sort of music that Thundercat is associated with – music that unfolds slowly and with care – a longer run time can give it so much more depth. Some of the tracks on this album are under a minute long and sound fantastic but in the context of the album they sound short-of-breath. Even though this is an album that Thundercat uses to reassert himself, it doesn’t feel like one that’s been rushed or one that he’s been pressured to put out. ‘The Beyond/Where Giants Roam’ sounds like it’s been handled with care, yet I wish that there was slightly more material to hold onto.

7/10

Best Tracks: Lone Wolf Club, Them Changes, That Moment

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