Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Thundercat ft. Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington – Them Changes

Readers’ Week continues! Today’s theme is Artists Or Bands With Really Long Names Or In The Case Of This Song (Which Isaac Suggested By The Way) Long Feature Credits And It’s Driving Me Nuts Trying To Figure Out The Correct Shorthand For These Artists At Least Here It’s Pretty Easy Since You Can Just Talk About Each Artist Individually But What About…


Brad Shoup: The idea of the auteurist funkster is entangled with the concept of more: additional players, shinier tech, grander concepts. The notion is what makes Timmy Thomas’s Why Can’t We Live Together such a bracing listen: it’s more separate than separate. “Them Changes” has some of the dryness of Why Can’t: the pointillist wah tries to emulsify the peculiar mix of Thundercat’s bass, the crisp snares and the languid Toussaintesque piano. It’s not a comfortable pairing, which is just as well, considering he spends the cut lamenting a chest-gape. There’s no chorus, or maybe there are two.

Anthony Easton: The swamp bubble production, the falsetto, and the formal gorgeous integrated into bleak heartbreak — I am glad for the return of dance music as high tragedy. 

Tomás Gauna: 2015 was a great year for Thundercat, FlyLo, and Kamasi, their work got featured on Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, they released some great music, I’m sure they will get a few nominations, and this song is one of the best on Thundercat’s latest EP.

Scott Ramage: Aiming for Prince, sounding like Jamiroquai, barely adequate to compete on a level with the latter. The chords are curiously dissonant but in a way that’s more ugly than unexpected. The rubbery bassline, soprano chorus and sax outro are all symptoms of overblown excess, so it makes no sense how this sounds so half-finished and flimsy.

Kenny Komala: While Thundercat can jam with Kamasi Washington and the rest of the band, I love the fact that his own stuff is completely different from his work with Kamasi. I am a sucker for Hall & Oates and I am getting that vibe from this song. Bonus points for those “Higher Ground” licks.

Austin Brown: I’m going to be honest and say that Flying Lotus does very little for me. His music, while sometimes danceable and always filled with noticeably interesting sonics, always feels clinical and lifeless, even when it’s at its most intriguing. So maybe it takes someone like Thundercat to rein in his talents. This feels more like real funk music for real people, even when you take into account Thundercat’s chronic hyperactivity and oft-inaccessible work on the bass. The themes are more grounded, the singing catchy, but more importantly, the interplay between the instruments locks into place and orbits around the singer. Naturally spiritual, even cosmic, if you’d like.

Tristan Bella: Stephen Bruner is most stable when he’s gliding on the fretboard of his bass, his fingers dancing like an army of Astaires and Rogers. This is not that Stephen Bruner. “Them Changes” is a lurch, an Isley-included slosh, and he absolutely nails it.

Joshua Kim: When The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam came out, I was ready to absolutely hate “Them Changes.” At that point in the year, To Pimp a Butterfly had already come out, and it was clear that these guys and those like them had ruined it. On top of that, Kamasi Washington’s debut turned out to be three hours of spiritual jazz without any of the fervor, just personality-less solo-after-solo coupled with a poor sense of dynamics and interplay (it’s also far less adventurous than it would lead you to believe). Thundercat himself is a stiff session musician-type whose funk grooves often feel joyless — just compare this to “Footsteps in the Dark,” the song it samples. A lot of it comes down to how much of a buzzkill his virtuosity is but that’s thankfully toned down here. In its place, unfortunately, is a reminder of how his vocals are just as uninteresting. The middle break gives some much needed oomph to Thundercat’s bass when it returns, and having the sax simply ornament the fade out is great, but Brainfeeder & Co. make some boring music at the end of the day.

Thomas Inskeep: “Them Changes” opens with a sample from the Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark”: an awfully good sign right there. Kamasi Washington, inarguably the jazz rookie of the year, contributes sax here, with Flying Lotus on electronics, but none of it would matter without the underpinning of Thundercat, not just his effortlessly funky bass playing, but that gorgeous voice that sounds like it was swiped from R&B radio in mid-’76, and his presence. Thundercat sells this song of heartbreak so completely that he gets away with an opening line “Nobody move, there’s blood on the floor/And I can’t find my heart” and makes it sound like it should be part of the soul canon (and it should). After the first half of his first verse, a gorgeous piano line comes in, sounding for all the world like something off a classic mid-’70s Stevie Wonder record. Washington blows, but subtly. And the whole thing is done and gone in barely three minutes, where it could’ve easily gone on twice as long. Its brevity increases its impact, however, and what an impact. 

Ryo Miyauchi: Thundercat pulls jokes all the time, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to laugh here as he throws up a Have You Seen Him? poster for his heart. But there’s really nothing else to do in response from a guy who’s going through such a rough time.

Alfred Soto: This sounds like a backing track with a guide vocal waiting for Kendrick Lamar: a pleasant but shapeless amalgam of influences calculated to attract a mainstream crowd (think Hall & Oates or late Isleys). It explains, I suppose, Kamasi Washington’s prestige billing and phantom presence.

Micha Cavaseno: OK, I think those are the drums from “Footsteps In The Dark,” which is a pretty nice change from ol’ FlyLo’s rote takes on drum programming, and hearing who I presume to be Steve playing piano licks is interesting. For all the “cosmic funk” talk I’m sure most of the reviews are going to be describing, this sounds more Hall & Oates-like than anything. I’m honestly surprised that Thundercat, a guy who’s responsible for Flying Lotus’ descent into muso-wank can come up with a fairly decent MOR R&B/Pop ballad; this could be a Bee Gees song! No doubt this might turn in a surprising amount of commercial attention for guys who I thought would be welcome and content to let their niche override itself to redundancy. It shows a sharpness that, when focused, presents Flying Lotus and Thundercat as varied as the musicians as they generally love to insist upon being.

Hannah Jocelyn: I’m a casual fan of most of the people in this collaboration. I love Thundercat’s contributions to Kendrick Lamar’s album, and I love Flying Lotus’ collaboration with Lamar as well. So at the beginning, I wouldn’t have been surprised if K.Dot himself came in for a verse (not that I expect Kendrick to appear on every remotely jazzy song; he will likely not be working with Brad Mehldau anytime soon). This is different from that would be, though, and that’s not a bad thing — more soulful and straightforward, with the “Footsteps in the Dark” drum backing that I had to look up to recognize. There are a large amount of really nice moments, including well-placed piano, a free-flowing bridge, and the sudden saxophone at the end. However, the vocals and lyrics make this less memorable than any of the musicians’ individual or collaborative songs.

Conor McCarthy: I don’t really understand why there’s a corny piano interlude? But the bass and vocal lines are surprisingly sticky, the Isley Brothers sample is a classic groove and Kamasi Washington comes through at the end with well-placed, if too short, solo. Still, why is there a corny piano interlude?

Patrick St. Michel: Nothing wrong with wallowing in heartbreak, but Thundercat works through the pain with an Isley Brothers sample and some rubbery bass, making the eventual realization that moving on is alright all the more fun.

Reader average: [8] (2 votes)

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2 Responses to “Thundercat ft. Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington – Them Changes”

  1. Great reviews all! Great to see all these takes.

  2. Great reviews all around!

    Max – the raggy piano was actually recorded by their friend and Thundercat’s touring pianist Dennis Hamm. And as I learned in the very worth-it Song Exploder episode on “Them Changes,” that’s Hamm’s first take on the record.