Thundercat continues his run on 'The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam'

Randall Roberts
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

Thundercat, "The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam" (Brainfeeder). "Them Changes," the searing funk track from Los Angeles bassist Thundercat, features a crawling rhythm and a freaky bass line both dirty and distorted. At just more than three minutes, the song is drenched with black-power energy and dense with soul-funk spirit.

Its creator, born Stephen Bruner, is amid quite a run; his work can be heard on three essential Los Angeles records of the past year: Flying Lotus' "You're Dead," Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp a Butterfly" and Kamasi Washington's "The Epic." That momentum, along with a willingness to meander given the opportunity, permeates this new six-track EP.

On "Lone Wolf and Cub," Thundercat offers a musical meditation on the titular team while a loopy bass line circles, guest Herbie Hancock improvises on keyboards and Flying Lotus, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Mono/Poly add texture. "Song for the Dead," which also features Atwood-Ferguson and Mono/Poly, is knee-deep in Southern California mysticism, floating, dream-like, tripped out.

De Lux, "Generation" (Innovative Leisure). Los Angeles duo De Lux opens its second album with a line sure to resonate with the city's commuters. As a midtempo beat, choice synth line and textured guitar-strums craft a light, interlocked dance groove on "LA Threshold," vocalist-multi-instrumentalist Sean Guerin sings sweetly, "To drive in L.A. is the worst of my day/ And to drive in L.A. is the best in the rain."

Filled with synth-pop gems that could score your next new wave rom-com, "Generation" vibes like Talking Heads, mostly because Guerin sounds a lot like David Byrne. But lyrically, the record is of the moment: He and bandmate Isaac Franco offer lively, joyous lyric and melody lines about video games, Facebook-born desire and "the Buddhists at Hollywood & Highland — not that I would hang out there."

At times they're too clever by half. "Oh Man the Future" is a laundry list of predictions that brings to mind cheesy '80s pop hit "AEIOU Sometimes Y," and "Simba Simba Simba" is pretty close to a novelty song. Still, when Guerin refers with baffled wonder to "girls in the world staying wealthy by taking selfies" during "LA Threshold," it's hard not to sing along.

Dream Syndicate, "The Days of Wine & Roses" (Omnivore Recordings). Recorded in Los Angeles in September 1982 and released a month later, the Dream Syndicate's underground rock album doesn't fit neatly into the city's musical narrative. Not punk but born at the same time, not as lysergic as the so-called paisley underground scene, the original quartet — Steve Wynn, Karl Precoda, Dennis Duck and Kendra Smith — had a heavy Velvet Underground vibe but harnessed different tonalities and brands of distortion.

Originally released on Ruby/Slash Records and produced by Flesh Eaters founder Chris Desjardins, "The Days of Wine & Roses" as resurrected by Grammy-winning archival label Omnivore adds to the original nine songs with six previously unissued tracks. The best of the originals, "Halloween," is as transcendent three decades later, a rolling guitar rock exploration that clangs and bangs. The best of the outtakes, "Still Holding on to You," was later released on "The Medicine Show," but this rehearsal version was birthed earlier, before bassist Kendra Smith left the band.

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