First and foremost, Talkhouse Contributing Writer Liam Wilson is a good vibe technician. He’s known to moonlight as an avid psychonaut and enjoys occasional visits with his worldly possessions in Philadelphia. He spends most of his time wandering Earth in an endless pursuit of a clearer understanding of all things bass-frequency related with his band the Dillinger Escape Plan. Follow him on: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
With his overflowing facility on the electric bass, Thundercat, aka Steven Bruner, has a musical trajectory that started at a young age and seems like it might be endless. Born into a legendary musical pedigree — his Grammy-winning father has drummed with Diana Ross, Kenny Garrett, and the Temptations — Thundercat has made waves with his collaborations with a diverse range of artists such as Erykah Badu, Flying Lotus, Snoop Dogg and Suicidal Tendencies — not to mention as a bandleader and composer for his self-titled solo project. I first saw Thundercat play a few times with Suicidal Tendencies, and again recently, performing his own material solo on tour opening for Flying Lotus, who produced Apocalypse. As a fellow-bassist, I left the performance feeling what I like to call aweror — basically, a jaw-dropping sensation that renders me equally awed and in horror at the over-achieving talents I have just witnessed. Aweror makes me want to both practice endlessly and quit. So, truth be told, before I’d even heard Apocalypse, I had already drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid. I wanted to love it, I wanted to believe, I wanted to follow this Thundercat into his pattern grid world and party with him. Now, especially after listening to the record more than a few times, the name Thundercat feels less like a bass player’s alias and more like a nickname for some future drug: ”Yo, have you tried that new Thundercat?” That is to say, it’s a real hard trip. But this record isn’t so much a product of the psychedelic experience so much as it’s a fractal of the psychedelic experience itself: both trip and trip-toy, journey and destination, Apocalypse is a playful koan and its author’s self-introspective sense of humor is a deceivingly disarming teacher. On this, his second album, we’re re-introduced to a lifer with talent beyond his years, who has obviously done his songwriting homework, yet doesn’t need to prove he’s the best at practicing. Instead, we have ego-shattering experimental anthems in an age of industry ego-drivens. Thankfully, this more Cheshire-than-Thunder cat is more than a bass whisperer, he’s a mystic troubadour, a singing spirit animal signaling us to follow him on a vision quest into the 8-bit underworld. What I dig most about this recording, despite its electronic sheen, is how confidently handmade and sentimental it feels. There is a certain warts-and-all honesty about it, a fingerprint of the maker that isn’t airbrushed away — and that isn’t to say the production is lazy, because it’s anything but. If you’re looking for high-stamina shred, there is enough to slake your thirst with tracks like “Special Stage,” which cleverly function more as intimate ear candy than proverbial bass solo. The turbo bounce of the P-Funk-meets-Squarepusher-on-nitrous groove machine “Oh Sheit It’s X” makes tracks like “The Life Aquatic” seem a bit undercooked, and transitions like the ending of “We’ll Die” seem a bit unfinished — although his throat-clearing on the latter is admittedly one of my favorite surprise moments on the whole album. “Tron Song” is a “Martha My Dear” for the Internet Age, a melodic mantra chasing its tail in a self-referential and ever-so-satisfying loop. I’m probably one of the few who will ever make this connection, but when I hear “Seven,” I can’t help but think of the song of the same name by knotty German death metal band Necrophagist; like Thundercat’s song, it’s also in that odd meter, in seven. Although stylistically quite different, I’ve seen it before, and thus think it’s a little too obvious. I can’t help but discount both a little. Regardless, the main riff is nasty and the proggy climax is slick. The haunting and hypnotic structure of “Lotus and the Jondy” is perhaps the strangest duckling of the bunch, with a bridge that deconstructs the album with urgent and almost alien conversations between the suspiciously human players; it’s all done tastefully in the vein of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Meeting of the Spirits,” from 1971’s The Inner Mounting Flame. The verses on “Without You” are spaceship-sexy like Daft Punk’s “Nightvision,” whereas the equally seductive “Evangelion” reminds me more of a dimly lit opium den or harem. Although the sitar and dulcimer quotes wander questionably close to the entrancing edge of “what I imagine sober-minded people think all music sounds like on drugs,” there’s no denying this waking dream’s authentic grace. Although there’s a lion’s share of Velcro-catchy vocals throughout, I think these two aforementioned tracks are the sauciest of the bunch. Apocalypse is the sound of someone searching for something — not searching aimlessly for just anything, but the way one deliberately reaches for the things loved and lost, or grasps at things just beyond reach. Although some tracks sound a bit cobbled together, it succeeds in challenging the listener to meet it at least halfway, as if asking the audience to fulfill their cosmic role, to interact and do the work too, and to learn from it. Whether it’s through dancing, transcribing this stuff or simply taking a big hit and surrendering to subtle things discovered as if simply forgotten, the rewards are there for those who seek them out.