Offering insight into the headspace of The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam, Steve “Thundercat” Bruner took to Twitter.
“So stupid and pointless. We’re all gonna die anyway. What a way to waste mental space,” he tweeted in regard to the social turmoil and aggravated levels of racism in America. Having lost a dear friend and collaborator in Brainfeeder recording artist Austin Peralta two years ago and internalizing the widespread public slaying of black men, Thundercat offers no reprieve on this record. Even ‘Them Changes’ with its Zappian bounce, cannot be mistaken as lightfoot r&b of the Hall & Oates variety; lyrically Thundercat’s broken mess of a heart is from the disbelief of universal injustice, not a maneater. The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam earns the “mini-album” title in that regard, with magnificent questions asked of the universe, in the waking life and astral eternal.
It took four years and two solo albums, but Thundercat finally found his comfort zone. There’s plenty to be lauded and plucked from 2011’s The Golden Age of Apocalypse and 2013’s Apocalypse, but a reluctance towards the spotlight permeated each record; that bassist mentality to offer the groove and stick to his private life otherwise, to play backup for Erykah Badu, Suicidal Tendencies, and Flying Lotus. It was Flying Lotus that convinced Thundercat to flex his pipes and record solo albums, rather than be the quite literal quiet wolf in the corner, draped in actual wolf skin. Thundercat sprung The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam on us unexpectedly, but in its surprise and brevity is the awakening of his voice.
The brotherhood between Flying Lotus and Thundercat influences the narrative of the mini-album, and their work on FlyLo’s You’re Dead!, exploring the the journey of human consciousness in death, could be perceived as a catalyst. Opener ‘Hard Times’ is a shedding of the vessel, a request to a higher power that this conscious spirit is pure and ready for the absolute truth, for “sight beyond sight”. A similar iteration exists on You’re Dead!. It’s a welcomed obsession amongst the Brainfeeder crew, as their dealings with the impermanence of our time and the exploration of the other side are examined with both spiritual curiosity and a determination to add it to their virtuosic repertoire.
The impulse to label this record celestial and mythologically-based is merited. The fable-worthy writing of ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ is the most obvious example, while Thundercat’s empyrean vocals offer comforting truisms to the supertemporal. Or at least it can feel that way. Press play on the mini-album in the proper mindset, having just lost or with the vulnerability of being overwhelmed by injustice, and Thundercat’s speaks for the moment. It exists for gruesome realities, somber reflection, single parenthood, and reckoning.
Apocalypse ended in literal departure, ode, prayer and void, but The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam is complicated, delving deeper into the quandaries of death where a spirit is neither granted infinite salvation nor extinguished. Thundercat’s final words on the eponymous track are “somewhere between space and time / watching, waiting for their time.” A devoted Christian, Thundercat invokes the Nephilim, or fallen giants, a biblical reference with interpretations that include apostates or renouncers, and fallen angels bound as prisoners to the ground. Thundercat wisely offers no answers, but rather approaches his art with a “lead by example” mentality. It’s the sign of a leader born, fully shedding his rhythm section skin, to offer a collection of sounds nearest his heart.