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Stephen Bruner is having one hell of a year. First, he featured prominently on Kendrick Lamar's surefire classic, To Pimp A Butterfly, where he undoubtedly played a major role in crafting the funky jazz instrumentation that earned rave reviews from critics the world over. Then, Bruner, better known my his nom de guerre Thundercat, again starred in a jazz setting by providing slick electric bass to fellow Kendrick collaborator Kamasi Washington's unimpeachable masterpiece, The Epic. But while he took a backseat to both Lamar and Washington on their respective projects, this mini-album (a hot musical term that Pitchfork's Seth Colter Walls appropriately pointed out is merely "the euphemism du jour for EP") of his own creation has allowed him to put together a focused, hypnotic and emotionally compelling record that allows him to cap an astonishing few months with an exceptional turn at center stage.

The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam has an ethereal airiness to it that manages to still feel tethered to the temporal plane, acting as more of a ghostly fog in the woods (as is suggested by the project's album cover) than anything particularly celestial. This haunting sonic background, which repeats itself throughout all of the release's six tracks, even in the lithe grooves of 'Them Changes,' provides the ideal canvas for the meditative reflections upon a number of darker topics, appropriately summarized by Thundercat on Twitter as "the eerie peacefulness of death."

This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Bruner's shot at top billing: he never embraces the spotlight, instead preferring to peer out through darkness. The reflective elements of the record, instead, are where the focus has been placed. Cameos from the high profile talents of Washington, whose virtuoso saxophone talents are ever so barely highlighted at the end of 'Them Changes', and Herbie Hancock, playing keys on 'Lone Wolf and Cub', come and go without a single hiccup or bump in the road. The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam is not the venue for grandiose extravagance and no one featured on the record ever seeks to make it such.

Thundercat chose to announce and release this record rather suddenly, followed by a spurt of revealing Twitter posts that provided insight into his mindset during its creation. He explained that he was attempting to come to terms with the brutal deaths of several friends, in addition to grappling with the racial tensions that have continued to firmly grip American society. "So stupid and pointless," he wrote. "We're all gonna die anyway. What a way to waste mental space." If the record's final track, 'Where The Giants Roam/Field of the Nephilim', is any indication, Bruner is still working through much of this. But just because the mystery and vagueness of the world is challenging and it will continue to be so does not mean that the unanswerable questions aren't worth thinking about. These 16 minutes from Thundercat will likely prove to be one of the year's thought provoking and most rewarding listens of the year.

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