Apocalypse, the second album by bass maestro extraordinaire Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, is an album that sounds quite unlike almost anything else. It is a record that equally represents the past and the future, one that plays around with perceptions, moods, feelings and emotions. For Thundercat, Apocalypse is a special transcendent place where he seeks to take his music. In collaboration with producer and label boss Flying Lotus, he has made a masterwork.
Apocalypse is a deeper and darker album than Bruner’s debut, 2011’s The Golden Age Of Apocalypse. The virtuoso musicianship is just as impressive but here the songs are more defined and evocative. You can feel the emotion in every track. Bruner’s voice plays just as prominent a role as his bass. His warm vocals give Apocalypse more of a human touch. It makes songs like the yearning, hopeful plea of Heartbreaks + Setbacks even more affecting.
Part of the emotion stems from grief over the death of Bruner’s close friend, the talented pianist and fellow Brainfeeder artist Austin Peralta, who died at the age of 22 last autumn. Apocalypse sees Bruner channeling that grief into a set of songs brimming with emotion. Closing track A Message For Austin is incredibly affecting. Bruner offers a heartfelt eulogy to his friend as he promises that “your legacy will live on”. What could sound overly sentimental instead becomes beguiling as the heartfelt worlds are aligned to a gloriously immersive psychedelic swirl of sound.
Many of the songs here deal with melancholic yet hopeful themes. Special Stage is another spiritual and deftly wondrous piece of progressive future soul while Without You is a peerless slow jam. Where the album truly excels though is in Thundercat’s grasp of dynamics. Each song is perfectly defined. No sound seems out of place. There is an incredible amount of invention; whether it’s weirded out spacey prog, as on Tenfold, or ambient glitch electronica, as featured on interlude Seven, each sound relates perfectly, each to the other.
The jazzy side of Bruner’s upbringing in a distinctly musical family comes to the fore on the brilliant sashaying strut of Lotus And The Jondy. But Apocalypse’s real thrilling moment is the joyous party anthem Oh Sheit It’s X. If any song can rival Daft Punk’s Get Lucky for summer party jam of the year then it’s this. An unabashed ode to hedonism, ecstasy and the ability of dance music to bring people together, it features some truly spellbinding bass work that makes it much more than a throwaway piece. This is cosmic funk pop taken to another level.
Throughout Apocalypse a mystique colours the songs. It’s an unknown, indefinable quality. The music is mellifluous and lilting. It’s an album that offers newfound charms with each listen, always with something to discover. Neither reverential to the past nor wilfully impenetrable in forging new musical ground, Apocalypse floats in its own singular ether.
There’s no doubting Stephen Bruner’s credentials as a musician. You don’t record with Erykah Badu, Leon Ware and Flying Lotus unless you are talented, but this album is the full realisation of his talent as a bass player, musician and, most importantly, a songwriter. Apocalypse is, in short, a supreme triumph.