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Thundercat
The Golden Age Of Apocalypse Andy Thomas , August 24th, 2011 12:21

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"Lots of people ask me about Thundercat, and how I come to know this guy. Thing is you've been hearing him for years and probably didn't even know it," suggested Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) prior to this much anticipated release. Son of Temptations session drummer Ronald Bruner, this Los Angeles raised "mutant jazz cat" has played bass alongside everyone from Erykah Badu to Stanley Clarke, even touring with soul legend Leon Ware when he was just 16. But it was on FlyLo's cosmic jazz/beats opus Cosmogramma that most heads would have first become aware of the immense talent that is Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat.

With recent albums by such divergent but connected artists as Samiyam and Austin Peralta, the Brainfeeder family are beginning to fulfil Ellison's expansive creative vision. A recent live jam recorded over in Ellison's LA home for Benji B's Radio 1 show perfectly captured the loose but disciplined sonic flow at the heart of this label, one which could perhaps only have sprung from a West Coast that has produced both Horace Tapscott's Arkestra and Arthur Lee's Love. It's that mix of astral expensiveness and strict artistry that makes Thundercat's debut LP The Golden Age Of Apocalypse as grand and visionary as its title.

If the words jazz-fusion bring to mind indulgent keyboard solos and meandering horns, then head to the heavy mid-70s LPs of cats like George Duke and Barry Miles. This much-maligned period signals not the demise of jazz, as many traditionalists would have you believe, but one of its most exciting and fertile periods, when the music once again connected with the funk. To say that Thundercat's debut is continuing in that lineage is no way implying that it is weighed down by those influences (despite a brave version of George Duke's 'For Love I Come'). Rather, its sense of time and space is what makes it a perfect document of LA's alternative arts scene in 2011. And besides, a maverick as likely to be slapping bass in an Indian head-dress as tearing out riffs with hardcore merchants Suicidal Tendencies was never going to be bound by categorization.

The fact that the album was recorded over a number of years, with Bruner never envisaging releasing a full LP, only enhances the pure sound of a musician in bloom. Take songs like 'Is It Love?' and 'Seasons', dreamy kaleidoscopic ballads that evoke a languid soulful purity somewhere between Shuggie Otis and D'Angelo. Whether dropping heavy slabs of future jazz like 'Fleer Ultra' and 'Jamboree' or multi-layered slices of fusion such as 'Boat Cruise' and 'Return to the Journey' the musicianship here is simply stunning. Loose and languid but full of funk, Thundercat is clearly reaping the rewards of those years fine-tuning his craft with some of the titans of both jazz and soul. And with the hand of producer Flying Lotus moulding the creativity and providing the brotherly intuition so evident on Cosmogramma, this is one of the most liberated of all releases from this free-thinking collective.

It's left to Flying Lotus to put the LP into its full context: "I think it's going to be one of the most important records out this year, not because of my involvement, but because it's music that we are not hearing right now. A lot of the stuff that we're hearing this year is very, very familiar. You can talk about mainstream stuff or you can talk about the underground stuff, but it's all real familiar."

Charlie Frame
Aug 25, 2011 10:47am

Good job on getting through the review without mentioning Squarepusher! :-) This album was okay - a bit smooth-sounding for my tastes, but by no means unworthy

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