“Can you hear the sound of infinity?” Thundercat inquires near the end of Seven, a track on his second album, Apocalypse. As if to answer his own rhetorical question, what follows is an improvised cadenza on electric bass, both dazzling and no-big-deal. Then: some hanging-in-the-studio banter, some laughter. A day at the office, basically.
Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner, is the virtuoso bassist and vocalist at work here, and his talents are scarily obvious. Apocalypse, released digitally last week and due out on CD and vinyl July 9, is an outlet for his instrumental prowess, his taste in soulful retro-futurism and his slyly ingenuous songwriting. It’s also a platform for his peer group, a style-blending Los Angeles cohort that has coalesced around the producer Flying Lotus, whose signature is legible on the album, and on whose label it appears.
The first Thundercat album — The Golden Age of Apocalypse, released on Brainfeeder in 2011 and likewise a Flying Lotus production — bathed Bruner in trippy atmosphere, with ample allusion to the jazz funk and fusion of the 1970s. Apocalypse is bolder and clearer, less blissed-out and more grippingly immediate. Not coincidentally, it follows the untimely, shocking death of Austin Peralta, a keyboardist in the Flying Lotus orbit, and someone with whom Thundercat had an obvious bond.
So there’s purpose behind those lyrics about infinity, a metaphysical condition also known as the eternal. Elsewhere Thundercat sings lyrics that land heavily on loss (Without You) or mortality (We’ll Die) or the urge to look within (Special Stage). The closer is a heart-on-sleeve elegy, “A Message for Austin/Praise the Lord/Enter the Void,” girded by emotions that still feel raw.
But Apocalypse isn’t really a journey into darkness. One neo-disco song (O Sheit It’s X) with a premise of ecstasy on the dance floor — both the feeling and the drug — shows Thundercat’s capacity for humor. And on almost every track there’s a richness of musical detail: the multi-tracked vocal harmonies, the shrewdly off-kilter grooves, all those spidery bass arpeggios.
The lead single, Heartbreaks + Setbacks, pairs a summery disco-funk vibe with lyrics — like “Maybe we’ll figure out where we’re supposed to be” — that strike a tone of wary uplift. And on Tron Song, which has the album’s most haunting melody, evoking Maurice White in full chromatic splendor, Thundercat sings a heartening sentiment in his coolly aerated falsetto: “I always come back to you/Don’t you worry about me.”
— NATE CHINEN, NY Times News Service
LA NOCHE MAS LARGA
Warner Music Latina
Buika, the Spanish-born singer of Guinean heritage, came out of the new-flamenco tradition and through the past decade has subsequently run in different directions: toward modern Cuban jazz, electronic house, Mexican boleros, and modern American and European pop. Her voice can be ashy and bruising and hurt and imperious, and worn on the surface despite its power; it can sound like late Joni Mitchell or late Camaron de la Isla or late Sarah Vaughan, but always late-something. It can’t quite be contained, or easily understood. For the most part, neither can her career.
That’s the problem of those who are good at too many things. Her own musical essence is mixed down to the root — that’s already known — but the mixture comes into sharper focus on her new album, La Noche Mas Larga (The Longest Night). It’s like this: The record was made in Madrid, Miami and New York, with musicians from Cuba, Spain, Puerto Rico and the United States. Five of her own songs add context to songs in Spanish, French and English by, among others, Abbey Lincoln, Jacques Brel, Ernesto Lecuona, Roque Narvaja (the early 80s Spanish pop hit Santa Lucia”) and Billie Holiday (a flamenco version of Don’t Explain.)
The musical director is the pianist Ivan Melon Lewis, and one of the bassists is Alain Perez; together they were in the rhythm section of the Cuban singer Isaac Delgado’s miraculous timba band in the late 90s. Other monsters are here too — the drummer Dafnis Prieto and the conguero Pedrito Martinez, the young trumpeter Carlos Sarduy and the guitarist Pat Metheny, not un-monstrous himself, who plays in nylon-string ballad mode through Buika’s No Lo Se.
That song, and some of her others, tend toward gauzily sophisticated jazz-pop, nearly 80s-like. They may represent a more recent cast of mind, but they seem centerless; paradoxically, they don’t feel as new as her versions of the standards here that date back much further, songs containing a formal rigor that she can push against. In the best cases her voice splits the difference, with singing so musical and overpowering that it can override your built-in genre switch. Still, the problem remains.
— BEN RATLIFF, NY Times News Service