Stephen Bruner’s corner of the music world continues to grow. The supremely talented bassist otherwise known as Thundercat made waves with solo LPs like 2013’s Apocalypse, but since that album’s release, he’s spent his time contributing to tsunami-like releases including Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, lending his instrumental prowess and emotive grace to a world in which the lines between hip-hop, jazz, and electronic music continue to blur. Riding that momentum back into his solo catalog, Bruner returns with the six-track “mini-album” The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam.
“Time to shed some skin,” Bruner croons on opener “Hard Times”, setting the lyrical tone for the rest of the set. The airy reverb, iced keys, and Bruner’s falsetto — usually detailing pain, loneliness, and loss of some sort — serve as a base throughout, too. His virtuosic bass playing is absent on the track, though it later provides the shading to that dim foundation.
“Song for the Dead” traverses crisscrossing bass webs like a hip-hop-infused Tortoise. Low fuzz and sub-bass percussion builds as a choir of Bruners reach for stained glass harmonies. The bass takes on a funk wobble on the strutting “Them Changes”, and saxophone glitter from Brainfeeder compatriot Kamasi Washington thickens the groove. Next, legendary jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock contributes to the chill, lounge-ready “Lone Wolf and Cub”. Throughout, the production excels, Bruner developing somber, slippery atmospheres.
Where Bruner succeeds in developing a unified sonic feeling, he underwhelms in his ability to reinforce it textually in a unique or interesting way. “Why in the world would I give my heart to you/ Just to watch you throw it in the trash,” Bruner sings in his sweeping falsetto on “Them Changes”. The chorus to “Lone Wolf and Cub” (“On your own/ On your own, on your own/ Where will you go/ Where you go, where you go/ What will you do/ What you do, what you do”) aims for dramatic concern, but ends up barely registering. Thundercat releases typically detail grand worlds, but The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam relies too heavily on unspecific, cliched lyrical pain.
Essential Tracks: “Them Changes”