With “Daylight” one could effortlessly misinterpret Thundercat’s (Stephen Bruner) music as the same kind of electronic music that artists like Hudson Mohawke and Rustie are fashioning: a sort of wonky, sort of grimy but mostly, electronically-refreshing take on beats and synths. Naturally so, it was the lead song off his debut, The Golden Age of Apocalypse, however; as a multi-genre bassist, Bruner’s music reaches much farther and much, much wider. Proclaiming that he hopes jazz can be the new hip-hop one day, his second album, Apocalypse, challenges the notions of music with a forward-thinking release – one that is in many ways, a breakthrough.
The preeminent starting point to Bruner’s music is perhaps, the bass he provided on Erykah Badu’s classic album, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War). Wrongfully categorized as a solely dark album, the music on Badu’s brilliant release was highlighted by Bruner’s tremendously gifted bass lines – especially the looping, running bass on “The Cell.” And of course, Bruner’s work with Flying Lotus continues to amaze. With that refresher course, Apocalypse makes sense as an exemplarily expose of what the age of electronic music fused with hip-hop can be: downright exceptional.
The enveloping style that Bruner employs delivers an amazing flow that permeates the album’s very core with finely layered music. On “Lotus and the Jondy” Bruner explores an ethereal passage of music and his heartfelt love for jazz is never more present than it is on here. After working with Lotus on Until the Quiet Comes, jazz is stronger and much more at the foreground with a free jazz style intact. The ending, which features tumbling drums, swirling synths and the bass in jagged fashion, is a free-for-all that is rolling towards the spectrally-lush “Evangelion.” Here Bruner fills the spaces with keyboards and a slumbering bass line that allows the ominous vocals to float underneath it all. It’s obvious that nothing is meant to sound like “Daylight” on Apocalypse and it’s a much better album simply because of it.
While the cover art showcases a reflective Bruner – as he sits in the dark but still, staring off into the future – the music on Apocalypse is equally foreboding with touching sentiments. On “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” Bruner conveys the up-and-down feeling of life and how every single heartbreak is met with a ‘make-up.’ Wondering about life and its obstacles is a recurring theme on here and Bruner takes hold of the scene by embracing the difficult stretches as the music breathes of love and vigor through its creator. The bass is always the star as it brings both the harmony and dimly lit melody together but by combining more vocals and lyrics than ever before, Bruner has reached a new level. And while “Oh Sheit it’s X” is the closest thing to his previous album, this sounds much more like something from Toro Y Moi’s arsenal. Complete with background vocals and a nod to 70s funk and disco, it’s dangerously clear how composed Bruner is.
With the amount of skill that Bruner has amassed, Apocalypse is a turning point where the term “session man” can no longer be used to describe his craft. Bruner has elevated his game into something worth noting and more importantly, worth following. As his partnership with Flying Lotus continues to grow, Bruner can continue to look to the future with promising ambition. Apocalypse is an album to boast about, if this is where the sophomore slump is supposed to happen Bruner has definitely put that myth to rest.