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Thundercat - The Golden Age of the Apocalypse

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Artist: Thundercat

Album: The Golden Age of the Apocalypse

Label: Brainfeeder

Review date: Aug. 30, 2011

Thundercat - "Daylight" (The Golden Age of the Apocalypse)

Boasting credentials that include a full-time stint in Suicidal Tendencies and side work with Snoop Dogg, Stephen Bruner, a.k.a. Thundercat, didn’t have to release his solo record on Brainfeeder. And even though he’s got a history with Flying Lotus, I still imagine that getting someone with Bruner’s cachet was a coup of sorts for the label. It certainly makes a great hook: Pro shredder lets his freak out on one of the best weirdo labels around; its stamp of approval lends Bruner some extra credibility; FlyLo’s 24/7/420 M.O. ensures that the weirdest vibes will be encouraged and that no one’s worried about radio play or marketability or some other sundry B.S.

That’s all good — except for the last part. The Golden Age of the Apocalypse could have benefited from some serious A&R. My hopes for an LP of sublimely weird Frusciante solo joints and visions of sun-bleached So-Cal space-fests were not to be. Bruner certainly let it all hang out here, but it only amounts to a heaping serving of noodles. Lots and lots of noodles, served plentifully over many courses. No surprise that the bass (is that a six-string fretless I hear?) has its noodle factor turned up to 11 for the bulk of the record; more charitable listeners would say Bruner’s "showcasing his technique," but it sounds an awful lot like noodling to me. And then there are the keyboard solos, which duck ‘n’ dive around the bass in squiggly shapes — these also eerily resemble noodles. The jazzy chords and all their fake outs and twists back up the theory.

This is befitting of the sound: a busy, hissy basement take on "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," with a few extra helpings of fusion and a dash of Morricone. Bruner obviously knows his way around any record store, fake book and jam session, and this effortless command is what gives Golden Age its main perks. The overall territory he’s working is pretty cool, and it sounds like he chose to record on a 4-track or something similarly messy. The fidelity is warm and murky, giving his chorus-heavy bass runs a bubbly flavor and his drums a lazy punch. In this respect, Golden Age is quite of-the-moment, doing for the Nu Yorica set what Aerial Pink did for soft rock.

The downfall lies in all those noodles. Seriously, as cool as his influences might be, and as weird and heady as the production might be, I can barely (thankfully) recall a single Thundercat moment when away from the record, even after 20-plus listens. It just doesn’t stick. The strongest songs, and also the easiest to remember, are the vocal cuts. "Return to the Journey" and "Walkin’" are both standouts where, framed by his airy melodies, the rest of the music falls into place as eccentric, loopy jazz. When untethered, though, Bruner seems in a hurry to cram as many "wrong" notes into his solos as possible, doing that annoying squinty-faced-pro-dude thing of nearly derailing every solo and then pulling it back to a "surprising" resolution, all while keeping it allegedly funky. "Fleer Ultra" is a main offender on this front, pushing a gratingly virtuosic hook to Jens Hannemann levels.

This is too bad, because Golden Age has a lot of promise. The premise is pretty great, and a convincing salesman could pass it off as a lost tape from the 1970s, found in some grandma’s basement or whatever. Even then, though, how many wanky bass runs do you really need to hear in a day? Bruner has some pretty sweet, vibey chops that he deploys sporadically here. If cultivated, he could deliver that skewed-fusion, weed hazed love letter he’s attempted here. In the meantime, best to let him noodle it out on his own.

By Daniel Martin-McCormick

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