It’s hard to talk about Thundercat without mentioning who he has worked with over the course of this and last year. It’s something that has near-universally come up in others’ writing about this album, and reflects the annoying habit of journalists to find someone else’s angle and run with it because it’s easy. We are not about easy. And while The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam is easy to listen to (again and again), it’s not easy to unpack.
While it is almost certainly laziness that motivated near-everyone to describe Thundercat’s CV and call that a review, part of me hopes that an implicit motivation of this might have been to account for just how utterly self-assured Thundercat sounds here. While half the length of his previous two albums, The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam feels, weirdly enough, like there’s more room within the musical and conceptual spaces of the album. Thundercat is not here to prove anything, in fact the album seems to operate on the assumption that you know his work or that he does with others, and therefore know that Thundercat can make you get down or take you to the astral plane with what feels like minimal effort on his part. But this isn’t the astral plane. We’re in an area “between space and time,” and this is where I think said extra room comes from in the album: We’re not anywhere in particular, and so Thundercat has much more space to move.
In fact, movement is key to this sense of non-place, The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam has no vertical structure where the beginning or end have a distinct sense thereof. Thundercat’s grooves move, because they do move, laterally across this space, technically brilliant (by my admittedly out-of-practice, and never really that good, musicological standards), but equally subtle. Basslines circling each other with only the suggestion of a time signature in ‘Song for the dead,’ and the breathtaking conclusion of ‘Lone Wolf and Cub.’ ‘Hard Times’ and ‘That Moment,’ songs that are essentially textures from which the next song emerges. Kamazi Washington fading out at what must be the beginning of a solo in ‘Them Changes.’ An exceedingly difficult to spot Herbie Hancock in ‘Lone Wolf and Cub.’
But Thundercat can groove in the traditional sense too, just listen to ‘Them Changes.’ While I would argue that it’s the least compelling song in the album, it’s classic funk stylings still, and in my opinion inexplicably, fit the overall vibe of it. Ultimately The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam feels like Thundercat using this in-between space to highlight that this album isn’t some departure from his previous work but rather the extension of its spectrum into colours only he can see.