Sound — 7
Thundercat, a bassist whose real name is Stephen Bruner, has laid down the groove for artists such as Suicidal Tendencies and Erykah Badu. Recently, he has focused on solo work, releasing his first solo album in 2011 prior to "Apocalypse," his sophomore effort. From the research I've done, it also appears that the album's producer, Flying Lotus, has worked with Thundercat on many previous occasions and that he was central to the writing of this album, more so than a producer normally is. The first thing I noticed when I listened to the album was the crisp production quality, attributed to Flying Lotus, I would assume. Whether or not I thought they were musically necessary, all the manner of electronic effects were executed to perfection, each of them smoothly cutting through the mix. While the effects/sampled sounds were mostly acting as percussion instruments, the quality/specificity of them was on a plane above what is normally seen in the realms of rap and hip hop, which this album sometimes alludes to but never fully becomes. Now, I've been told that oftentimes, the best bass player is the unseen, unnoticed bass player, one that blends into the mix. If a bass player were like this, one wouldn't really notice the bass lines. This is analogous to how I view the electronics on this album, when I don't notice them, they are at their best and when I do notice them, my thoughts towards them are not usually favorable. Moreover, this is not due to some pre-determined hatred of electronic parts that some exhibit, but it is true constructive criticism. For example, the placement of a constantly recurring percussive sound in "Special Stage" always feels off beat and it confuses and/or distracts me from the rest of the song. On the other side of the spectrum, the wah sounds in "Oh Sheit It's X" are going crazy, yet I can hardly notice them when I listen casually while they still provide the crux of the melody when I listen a little harder. The cheesiness of the lyrics makes me dislike this song; this is a topic that I will address in the next section of the review. The same, in terms of the instruments, is easily heard on "Heartbreaks + Setbacks." Guitars, for the most part, are not present on this album. In addition, unless I'm gravely mistaken, there isn't bass on every song either. However, when bass is present, it scintillates the senses. To see the cleanest example of this, check out "Seven" and "Lotus and the Jondy." However, despite the great bass playing, I can't rate the sound of the album too highly because the rest of it isn't that incredible. Don't get me wrong, the sound of the album is unique, and it feels more like jazz than anything else, it's just that it didn't really strike a chord with me; unique doesn't necessarily mean good. Aside from the vocals, the songs are all different, which is a characteristic that most albums do not have. However, one good sound is better than ten mediocre ones. While Thundercat's use of music theory alone may dazzle some (to be fair, I'm not a music theory expert), the resulting sound and vibe isn't really special. Most of the time, the pianos play a jazzy chord progression, but nothing groundbreaking or heartbreaking. The jazz drumming (I believe) is not that incredible and I find myself more paying attention to the electronic patch that the drums take on from one song to the next. The lone exception to this is a frenetic drum solo that still manages to keep the rhythm well enough for other instruments to play over it on "Lotus and the Jondy." While this may be some sort of musical feat, it doesn't sound that incredible. The more I listen to it, the more I've come to realize that there are hardly any guitars. While I won't fault the album for this, I think it's a worthy topic of contention given the title of this website.
Lyrics — 4
The vocals on this album are, in my mind, below average. The vocal delivery seems overly boring and bland across the board. I may be mistaken, but I believe that Thundercat is overusing his head voice and he shows very little range. Of course, I could excuse all this if his melodies were enjoyable. To me, they aren't (most of the time) and more often than not, they serve to detract from the melody of the instruments. The lyrics, in my mind, also do not fit the purpose of the music. Aside from that, many of the lyrics use simple, overused words and rhyme schemes. I sometimes refer to this as "tried and true" but I don't feel like it applies here. As with the vocal delivery, I could excuse the asinine lyrics if I thought they sounded good or fit the purpose of the music. For example, I sincerely feel that the great groove of "Oh Sheit It's X" is greatly diminished by lyrics such as these: "Who are you, are you talking so loud? I forgot you was my friend Your purse is nice baby, is it leather? Or it could be suede I'm confused as hell, stuck in pattern grid world Don't want it to stop Uhhh Oh sh-t, I'm f--ked up." The same is present on "Without You": "Endless nights I spend Trying to figure out How to live without you And though easier it seems it is Never should have chanced at this How was a hit and miss We'll never know It's time to go." While I may not have the highest opinion of the music on this album, I do believe that it is on a level above petty lyrics such as these. The best analogy I can make is with suits. The music is all nice and polished wearing Armani whereas the lyrics took all the coupons available at Jos. A. Bank. Basically, Thundercat is not Jack Black and these lyrics more closely reflect Black's style, which I respect for how it relates to his music, than it does the style of the music on "Apocalypse."
Overall Impression — 4
The music on this album, mostly jazzy, has its vicissitudes. Overall, I'd say that the musical part of this album is good, but not great and that the vocals rarely amuse/appease me. I can definitely see Thundercat's prowess as a virtuoso/theory expert yet this does not translate to a good album in this case, especially as far as vocals are concerned. And as I mentioned before, the production aspect on this album deserves a 9/10 on its own. At the end of the day, I wouldn't recommend this album to a friend, yet I feel that my opinion certainly will not be similar to many of the readers of this review. Therefore, as is usually the case, I urge you to give this album a spin and see what you think.