What do the avant beat producer Flying Lotus and veteran thrash punks Suicidal Tendencies have in common? Believe it or not, a bassist: Stephen Bruner, a.k.a. Thundercat. His connections don't end there. The son of Ronald Bruner, Sr., a drummer who played with the Temptations -- his brother Ronald Jr. is also a drummer, and a Grammy-winning one, at that -- the Los Angeles musician has run the gamut of collaborators, including Erykah Badu and Sa-Ra Creative Partners.
"For Love I Come" Thundercat
Fans of Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder imprint, a cornerstone of Los Angeles' outer-limits electronic-music scene, may recall Thundercat from his appearance on FlyLo's 2010 album Cosmogramma: "MmmHmm" was a cosmic highlight of an already (inter-) stellar album, with milky guitar chords drizzled over gravelly hip-hop beats, and Bruner's bass moving like a particularly dexterous worm through it all.
Thundercat's The Golden Age of Apocalypse sounds a lot like "MmmHmm," from the curious harmonic twists and turns to the rattling beats beneath. In fact, Flying Lotus produced the album, and many of Bruner's long-time collaborators take part: Sa-Ra, J*Davey, pianist Austin Peralta, his brother Ronald, even Erykah Badu. But good luck figuring out who does what: the mix is as smeared as a Vaseline-covered kaleidoscope, a gooey blur of synths and voices, guitars and glockenspiel. Sometimes, as on "Fleer Ultra," Bruner's bass is a driving presence, and a dazzling one, at that -- you wonder if he's got universal joints instead of knuckles. On "Seasons," he slinks low, content to shadow the chorused vocals that take center stage.
There's a lot to process here: as opposed to comparatively linear forms like hip-hop, rock and dance music, Thundercat's changes are always branching and bifurcating. He treats chords not just as stepping-stones to the next phrase, but as objects worthy of extended contemplation, to be pulled apart in four dimensions.
It takes a while to start to pick out the standouts, like "Walkin'," a blunted take on Steely Dan, or "For Love I Come," a particularly mellifluous cover of a George Duke song. "Jamboree," mostly synthesizers and taut drumming, approximates fellow Angelino Dam-Funk's squelchy electro jams. One of the record's sweetest moments comes early on, towards the end of "Daylight," with a chirpy synthesizer solo that sounds uncannily like a passage straight out of Prince's "Condition of the Heart," wispy as a dandelion field.
But the way songs blur together is also part of the album's languid, hazy charm. The consummate sideman, Bruner keeps you guessing. Even on his own album, he's low profile, except when he's not, and a burst of agility -- in the wrist or in the songwriting -- throws all the other contours else in stark relief. -- Philip Sherburne
"For Love I Come" Thundercat