If you were expecting bigger and more frantic electro-tinged grooves on Apocalypse, Thundercat's follow-up to The Golden Age of Apocalypse, you're in for a disappointment. Instead, the Los Angeles bassist-singer-songwriter (nee Stephen Bruner) invites listeners inward, into his atmospheric space-age fantasia—a world full of love and loss, of pleasure-riddled nights and metaphysical queries. The album is also part eulogy to Bruner's friend and bandmate, Austin Peralta, who passed away in 2012.
A shimmering collection of celestial funk with production from beat savant Flying Lotus, Apocalypse oscillates between good-natured jazz-pop and plaintive soul. "Listen with your heart and see through all of your fears/Open up a world that's just yours, cause life just seems so short," Bruner coos, in that hushy falsetto, on "Special Stage." It's one of the many life-affirming declarations throughout the album that give you a sense that something bigger is at play here. And yet, amid all the divergent chord progressions, impassioned pronouncements, and time-shifting basswork, the album is replete with aching vulnerability ("Heartbreaks + Setbacks" and "A Message For Austin"). As a former member of skatepunk outfit Suicidal Tendencies, Bruner has worked with soul vanguards Erykah Badu, Sa-Ra and Bilal, and even jammed with post-bop saxophonist Kenny Garrett, but on Apocalypse you finally feel he's come into his own. It's a rare admission for someone who listens to music for a living, but this is one astral jazz excursion I never want to end. —Jason Parham