Thundercat ‘Apocalypse’ Brainfeeder | Album Review
Blazing a trail of sonic bliss through his second LP offering Apocalypse, virtuoso bassist and song writer Thundercat has put together a body of work that will remain a classic R&B, soul and fusion record of its era. Created for the late and great Austin Peralta, one of Thundercat’s best friends, every moment is a gift to the excellence of musicianship and creativity that Austin brought to the world. Rick James, Earth, Wind and Fire, Jeff Lorber, Michael Jackson, Bootsy Collins, Goerge Duke, Prince, Bob James, Weather Report and so many other artists and groups come to mind when thinking about the superb musicianship and creativity found on Apocalypse. The style of Thundercat is simultaneously retrospective and futuristic, comic book influenced yet cosmically soulful, glossed over with that magical resonance that most lose when leaving their childhood. The albums production direction and enhancements were taken on by the hands of executive producer Flying Lotus and co-producer Mono/Poly, channeling Thundercat’s unlimited raw skills into a focused form. A majority of the songs run under the 3 minute mark, something common place before FM radio and the pop structures that existed in those times. To hear all the updated sounds, stylish grooved out bass lines, futuristic synth tones and superb singing in these pop structured formats is a special treat to anyone who appreciates that extensive world of mainstream culture.
Mastered at the Cosmic Zoo with Daddy Kev, the quality of engineering on Apocalypse is a defining element as to why this is as phenomenal of a statement as it is. The intricate overdubbing of multiple bass lines, the synthetic overtones, pristine and tasteful rhythm sections and powerful vocal harmonies are brought to life in a very spacious and pulsing manner. The layering is balanced and uplifting in every piece, something you couldn’t hide from even if you tried. The song writing is what has really stuck with me the most, resulting in strong catchy pieces of work that are as soulful, joyous and colorful as the type of transition Hendrix took with his Electric Ladyland LP. The human condition of relationships, friendships, happiness, loneliness and many other rooted human emotions are poetically conveyed in the lyrical presentation. It’s a planting of meaning that ties to so many universal themes amongst humans. There is a message for everyone on this album and that is the most pleasing element considering how adventurous the music is. Through multiple listening sessions of Apocalypse, I feel an emergence of one of the most talented musicians on this planet having the proper creative platform to really flourish in his own creative vision. Brainfeeder is this platform and they have extended something very beautiful to the visionary in the release of his Apocalypse LP.
12 tracks and 40 minutes in length, Apocalypse is a cross pollination of so many different styles that it all somehow becomes one thing under the musical guidance of Thundercat’s bass tones and vocals. “Tenfold” opens the album with a lot of energy, thumping away at singular bass notes, abstract synth templates and lyrics about a message of trust and the self doubt that can arise in that state. Around the 2 minute mark, a soaring guitar line is stretched out over an elongated vocal layer to audible bliss. Simplistic in design, the textures in all areas breathe with an immeasurable sense of life. “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” allows a freedom of flight to occur in context of the first track. Where the opening piece was very locked into a singular framework, “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” soars much higher musically and in lyrical theme. The energy is vibrant, bass lines are running wild and more pronounced and the versatility is abound. The moments when Thundercat reaches the end of each lyric passage, he rises in scales that really shows his vocal prowess and abilities. The background humming of vocal harmonies are some of the most beautiful sounds on the album and really set the mood for the type of layering that is to exist on the rest of the album. The synth break down of “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” drops out all percussion and all the angelic bass tones that underline the song become crystal clear. As the track fades this elegant bass tracking remains and an entirely different sense of energy emerges. Like the act of watching a flower bloom in the rays of the days new sun.
“The Life Aquatic” submerges the album into a dense and pressurized space of the sea, trailing underwater like grafted layers of synth over a menacing bass line and rhythm section. It’s the type of track that puts me in a deep mode of contemplation where analyzing my own world is a construction of the mind from what’s occurring sonically. It’s the darkest song on the record, painting yet a new picture in what Apocalypse stands for. “Special Stage” has a really remarkable mixing job, widening up the horizontal scope of the sound spectrum for some interesting textures and sounds that begins right away. The emotional weight is the light in energy with gorgeous synth solo lines that are pitch shifted with that 80′s vibe. The bass lines are mind blowing in the most subversive ways, covering every part of the neck while leaving all the room in the world for the vocal harmonies and other layers to shine over it. It’s a really clean and soulful sound that centers me back into place from the odyssey of “The Life Aquatic.” The transition into “Tron Song” is seamless, beginning with a beautiful arrangement of bass and vocal harmonization that drives into the core of something very special. The sonic imagination of Flying Lotus’ work rises to the surface after the intro subdues and the rhythms fall into place. The mapping of multiple bass lines over one another is a gift to the albums listen and can be heard and felt smoothly in “Tron Song.”
My favorite track is without a doubt the middle point of the record, “Seven.” Lush rhythms supplanted with hand-claps and a virtuoso exhibition of bass work, the song is designed with a very minimal sense of layering. The bass progressions are flawless, set up a divergence in song structure right before the 2 minute mark. It’s done at the drop of a dime for another technically driven vocal and bass only harmony sequence. The moments when the vocals cut out and Thundercat bursts out with a small solo is spell binding and leaves me in awe after every listen. A home recording of Thundercat making people laugh closes the track and sets up the album for the summer hit “Oh Sheit It’s X.” With this floor burner, the bass is drenched in effects with that slapping style only the most talented of funk bassist can achieve. The synth carries a lot of weight on the track, burning through a passage of hooks, choruses and bridges that define the highly talented song writing skills of Thundercat. The world hasn’t heard music this funky, soulful and pop since Prince. Showing his flavor and approach, Thundercat smooths the track out with the last minute as an all instrumental take. It’s a passage of music that funkier than anything out right now. The bass tones are mind blowing on this track and really bring to life the presence of Funkadelic and Parliament bassist Bootsy Collins.
The R&B flavor of the album is really brought to its fullest light on the piece “Without You.” Tightly placed and energetic in the pocket drumming and softly spoken bass lines make the rhythm section the smoothest of any track. A song about love and the act of waiting in vein, the lyrics are really memorable and important to emotions I have felt myself. The second half of the song takes on the theme of the musical backdrop for another instrumental section, only seeing the re-introduction of vocals with hummed background tracking from Thundercat for the ending measures. The phasing and other subtle effects in tone over the synth and bass really makes this track breath with passion while the solid drum work keeps the tracks edges full of shape. The musical shift that occurs next is the biggest of the album, transitioning into the technically superb and manic high velocity state of “Lotus and The Jondy.” Building on what sounds like Baritone guitar, the setting is devoid of trailing synth and the futuristic R&B sound that filters into many of the moments of the album. The melodic rock ecstasy of a group like Fugazi or guitarist John Frusciante comes to mind with the phrasing of the harmonies and vocal passages. The drum work really shines in the second half of the song, covering an entirely new sense of ground with solo’ing and mind bending rhythmic structures. The bass lines are more aggressive in this piece, shedding light on his background with Suicidal Tendencies and the other side of the equation that is Thundercat. This is the song live that Thundercat and drummer Thomas Pridgen were dropping jaws with during his recent the Flying Lotus and Teebs tour this.
“Evangelion” is the most exotic piece from Apocalypse, taking on the life of visionaries such as Alain Goraguer, Lonnie Liston Smith and Joe Zawinul. It is the most relaxing and beautiful song on the album, showering in an endless field of sun rays and happiness. A sense of psychedelia underlines the music, especially with the very subtle use of backwards processing, sitar, dreamy synth and other exotic textures. The main bass line runs deep into the fabric of my consciousness days after listening, a testament to how powerful and strong the music is for me. “We’ll Die” and the three part “A Message for Austin / Praise the Lord / Enter the Void” close the album out in direct homage and thanks to Austin Peralta. “We’ll Die” is the most minimal track of the album with just bass and vocals. “A Message for Austin / Praise the Lord / Enter the Void” takes on a more orchestral and electronic feel in the first part. It’s an astonishing message to a dearly loved friend of Thundercat’s that is one of many examples of how personal this album is. The next major section of the song feels like a reprise of strength and energy. The moment when the sadness is softened a little bit and a new path of determination and selfless living emerges. A new day arriving if you will. The bass lines are immaculate, washed over with delay and a crystalline arrangement of tones for a stunning ending of emotions.
Thundercat’s Apocalypse is one of the greatest albums I have heard this year and firmly plants Thundercat as one of the strongest visionaries in the world. The world has taken noticed, garnishing Thundercat a top ranking chart position in digital sales upon release. With the technical abilities to express an endless world of sound, Apocalypse resonates with the deepest of power. If this is still only the beginning of his solo career, I can’t even imagine what the world is in store for. Apocalypse is an album that we live for at SCV.
Check out the Brainfeeder Apocalypse page for full ordering options on the CD, Vinyl and Digital versions.
On his second album, Apocalypse, Thundercat pairs up with executive producer Flying Lotus to pull the veil back and reveal the simple truths of the cycle of life, for all its beauty and destruction. An album about loss and rebuilding, trying to gain something back, and capturing that moment of clarity where one finally finds feet back on the ground again. Bringing a fusion of pop, soul, electronica, prog rock and funk into an unexplored dimension, the album slowly descends and tunnels to the core of what it takes to grasp peace, at a time that it seems most far. – Brainfeeder