Summary

One of the many charms of Thundercat's first album, The Golden Age of Apocalypse, was the manner in which the supernaturally skilled bassist seemed to wing his way through songwriting -- stumbling upon ideas, going with the flow, goofing off -- and come up with brilliance. On his sharper, more focused second album, he works through anguish -- the loss of close friend and musical partner Austin Peralta -- with some staggeringly emotive and tightly composed content. There's less room for instrumentals and noodling, but even those moments are purposeful. The half-ebullient, half-turbulent, wholly absorbing "The Life Aquatic" adds some timely lightness after the heavy-hearted opening combination of "Tenfold" and "Heartbreaks + Setbacks." The odd-signatured "Seven," part of which resembles one of those wild-card Yes interludes, is an alternately showy and frivolous set-up for the delirious dancefloor funk jam "Oh Sheit It's X." For all the darkness and depth, one of the most moving songs here is "Tron Song," a falsetto ode to his cat and the greatest example of his fearlessness. Animal-loving touring musicians finally have a song that speaks directly to them: "I always come back to you/Don't you worry about me." Even the melodic ditties that skirt smooth soul and soft rock supply more resonance here; the sweetly forlorn "Without You" comes across like a missing Twennynine-era Don Blackman cut. The driving "Lotus and the Jondy," like early-2000s Radiohead with humor and fusion chops, is a fantastical adventure with moody riffing. Executive producer Flying Lotus and Peralta evidently are present as characters in the story, "Straight trippin' in the darkness, straight-up seein' goblins," while Thundercat's older brother Ronald is present in material/musical form to finish it with a supreme drum freak-out. Denser and fathoms deeper, this is some kind of leap. ~ Andy Kellman