Stephen Bruner’s musical moniker, Thundercat, is one of a slew of ’80s/’90s nostalgia-inducing names that have cropped up in the blogosphere over the past few years. I’m thinking of groups like Ducktails and Reading Rainbow. Because of that, you’d be forgiven if you looked at the name and tossed him off as another revivalist. But Thundercat is on Brainfeeder, home of the brain-melting electronics of Flying Lotus and the Gaslamp Killer; he doesn’t quite fit in with those comparisons, even if the second track on his FlyLo-roduced debut album The Golden Age of Apocalypsedoes actually sample the Thundercats iconic call to arms.
Other than that moment, though, Bruner is pulling from a completely different musical catalog. Thundercat’s heroes aren’t the hazy synths of chillwave, but the woodwinds and blunted style, the horns and improvisation of ’40s and ’50s jazz. You can hear during the bass solos of “Fleer Ultra” and “For Love I Come,” that Bruner is a monster jazz bass player, and he’s brought his talents to a range of musicians from labelmate FlyLo to Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg. But he’s more than that, arranging futuristic synths and soft vocals over delicate beds of atmospherics. Apocalypsedoes a great job of synthesizing jazz and funk with classic Brainfeeder electronics and rhythms, and while it’s not going to grab you if you don’t already have a love for Bruner’s obvious influences, it manages to keep from sounding like ripoff homage while still paying respects to its elders.
This is a chill record, to be certain. It sounds like the sort of thing that might play in a lounge club in some seedy corner of space, where some great-great-great grandnephew of Gil Scott-Heron would show up and announce that the revolution would not be hologrammed. When Apocalypse does go for more propulsive territory, as it does on “Jamboree” and “Seasons,” it doesn’t fit quite as well, but that’s a minor quibble. The purpose of The Golden Age of Apocalypse seems to be to synthesize and give new voice to genres that are often dabbled in but rarely full explored by artists in 2011. In that measure, it succeeds.