If you liked the funkadelic elements of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Flying Lotus’s Cosmogramma and You’re Dead!, you’ll love Stephen Bruner’s AKA Thundercat’s newest mini album, The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, featuring keyboard contributions by jazz legend Herbie Hancock and production from FlyLo himself.
Following his two previous albums, The Golden Age of Apocalypse (2011) and Apocalypse (2013), The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, released Monday, is a collection of songs that brings aspects of jazz fusion, psychedelics and more to the table.
The irony is that “Hard Times”, the first song off of the mini-LP, hints at endings and destruction, much like the concepts of his previous albums. Lyrics like “this must be the end // time to shed some skin”, as well as references to the moon “[transforming] this decaying flesh” indicate a sort of rebirth on Thundercat’s part.
But a rebirth in what exactly? While this album is still very Thundercat-esque, it may be hinting towards a musical evolution in the future.
With an echoing voice against just a piano, and with a slight hint of guitar at the end, this eerie song is a compelling way to introduce the rest of the album.
“Song for the Dead” is one of my favorites. You’d think that if Bruner tells you to “close your eyes, rest your head,” against a slow but steady electric guitar tune, he’d follow through with a mellow song, but a crescendo that builds up towards to the middle of the song leads to sounds of a machine engine powering up, released in a boggling drop.
Finally, however, he does pull through with a very chill guitar solo, but the song does a great job of catching the listener offguard.
Thundercat first released the single “Them Changes” before the entire EP was released, and for good reason. This upbeat track features catchy drums in the background and warning lyrics such as, “nobody move, there’s blood on the floor // and I can’t find my heart.”
He interrupts his own monologue with drawn-out croons and tidbits of saxophone, reaching back to his roots. The croons and lyrics start to blend into a very 70’s-inspired fusion rhythm, but his falsetto, which is on-point throughout the entire album, creates a futuristic vibe at the same time.
“Lone Wolf and Cub” breaks in with a head-boppin’ bass, with no message to look for in the lyrics (tl;dr: “wolf and cub” x 20), simply because the focus is placed on Thundercat’s funky guitar riffs, which transition into a quieter but quicker guitar solo, accompanied by echoing, high-pitched murmurs.
The wolf theme continues in “That Moment”, a 43-second long track that opens with a single spine-chilling howl. The song fades out against an intense vibrato to reveal a forest audio-setting, complete with cricket chirps and bird calls in the distance.
Thundercat concludes the album with the song “Where the Giants Roam / Field of the Nephilim”, in which you can definitely sense FlyLo’s influence. The psychedelic, dream-like song makes me wonder what Nephilim refers to in this context, because Biblically the term sometimes represents giants in Canaan. Your mind will soon want to wander “somewhere in between space and time”, perhaps to where the giants roam, perhaps in the field of these alleged Nephilim?
How does this mini album compare to what Thundercat has previously put out? The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam is much more ethereal, as his other albums often feature more fast-paced and straightforward tracks, like “Oh Sheit It’s X” and “A Message for Austin/Praise the Lord/Enter the Void” from Apocalypse (2013) as well as “Is It Love?” and “For Love I Come” from The Golden Age of Apocalypse (2011), which by the way, was partially produced by Flying Lotus.
Thundercat has worked extensively with Kendrick Lamar, showing up on tracks from Kendrick’s latest album To Pimp a Butterfly like “Wesley’s Theory” and “These Walls”.
However, the bond between this LA-born artist and Flying Lotus AKA Steven Ellison has been monumentally influential in Thundercat’s music.
In an interview with Billboard, Thundercat revealed that working with FlyLo and Kendrick strongly influenced his mini album:
I’d be exuding so much energy on Lotus’s album and Kendrick’s album — there was so much more output coming from me.
However, he also stated that many of the songs had their starts years before he started working with Ellison or Lamar. He loves to experiment and incorporate inspiration he gets from other projects, working to exercise his creative muscles:
It was a bit formless for a long time — sometimes I prefer that, because there is a thing of like, the unknown part of it.
Specifically, he referenced his experience working with Flying Lotus during the Cosmogramma years. Together, said Thundercat, they would “try to bend and stretch space and time creatively”, efforts that don’t go unnoticed.
In both Flying Lotus and Thundercat’s musical styles, listeners may sense unnatural changes in the pace of the music that often help define what makes their sound so unique. These efforts are the result of creative experimentation by Thundercat and his pals on the “to infinity and beyond” concept.
What do you think of Thundercat’s latest?