Review Summary: oh. sheit.
Having contributed to blockbuster albums from Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar, prodigious bassist Stephen Bruner (aka Thundercat) has garnered more acclaim than most musicians could hope to singlehandedly. Moreover, Bruner’s solo releases have cemented him as one of the more forward-thinking artists in neo-soul. With The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam
, the tone is dialled down, opting for a more chilled-out, reflective approach. Beneath much of Bruner’s music lies relatable themes celebrating life and love, while coping with losses. Thundercat has never been a showy lyricist, but where his simplistic approach might have been an access route to his comparably bizarre musicianship in past works, here they feel banal (though the reference to the Thundercats
TV show at the end of opener “Hard Times” was a nice touch). Where lines like “Close your eyes/rest your head/you are dead
” (on “Song for the Dead”) could provoke feelings of coming-to-terms, paired with the ho-hum musicality they feel inconsequential and dull.
“Them Changes” is the most vivid track present, overshadowing the rest of the mini-LP’s tracklist. The funky fretwork is infectious, while Bruner exclaims, “Nobody move, there’s blood on the floor/and I can’t find my heart/where did it go, did I leave it in the cold"/so please give it back, ‘cuz it’s not yours to take,
” countering the upbeat rhythms. It’s an anthem of heartbroken brooding while losing oneself in the power of dance. Follow-up “Lone Wolf and Cub” (an homage to the manga of the same name) is another high point, with a more subdued groove, but nonetheless catchy vocal melodies as Bruner croons, “Wolf and cub/on your own/where will you go/what will you do
,” further matching dire circumstances with a comforting atmosphere before opting for a self-indulgent solo that goes nowhere and does nothing, perhaps symbolic of how the song’s story might end - wandering in circles. “That Moment” is a soothing interlude that passes in one ear and out the other, and closer “Where the Giants Roam / Field of the Nephilim” fares little better. Thundercat never reaches the energy level of single “Them Changes”, and The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam
’s dreamy textures often beg for some vigour (contributions from pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Kamasi Washington help, though neither seem assertive here). It’s unfortunate that an artist with so much in his arsenal chooses to paint in watercolour - neither bold enough to excite, nor abstract enough to intrigue.