Thundercat - The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam

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 In the two years since his last album, Apocalypse, Californian bassist Stephen Bruner has lent his nimble fingers to Kamasi Washington's The Epic, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly and Flying Lotus's You're Dead!. To recap: that's a three-hour jazz odyssey, hip-hop's most powerful magnum opus in recent memory, and a concept album about death. No mean feat, then, that his new six-track mini-LP as Thundercat, / Where The Giants Roam, isn't overshadowed.

And yet we do find Bruner in the shadows here. Like You're Dead!, / Where The Giants Roam muses on mortality, but where FlyLo conjured a surreal and colourful afterlife at times, Bruner goes to a more sombre place. As the album was inspired by the deaths of close friends, the fact that it arrived so unexpectedly makes it feel like a spontaneous outpouring of grief. The lyrics are heartfelt and almost uncomfortably raw. "Transform this decaying flesh," he pleads on the opening "Hard Times," his fragile vocals surrounded by a sparse arrangement of keys. "Wolf And Cub" finds him repeatedly asking, "Where will you go? / What will you do?," as his bass flutters like angel wings.

Neither Apocalypse nor 2011's predecessor, The Golden Age Of The Apocalypse, were particularly lengthy, but like other jazz-fusion albums—such as Headhunters by Herbie Hancock, who makes a guest appearance on "Wolf And Cub"—they often seem to last longer simply because there's so much going on. That headspace is attractive to jazz aficionados, though it could turn off casual listeners. / Where The Giants Roam is far from an easy listen lyrically speaking, and yet it makes for a perfectly sized introduction to Thundercat. When Bruner sings, "I can feel your love around me," on "Where The Giants Roam / Field Of The Nephilim," the plangent keys indeed invoke a warm aura. And though he often seems to be drifting in limbo, his basslines have a strong sense of direction, particularly on the life-affirming pop of "Them Changes," despite the anguish in Bruner's words. Staring into a murky void, Thundercat has actually made his clearest music yet.

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