For the second straight week, our weekend New Funk song contains musical elements from the work of The Isley Brothers. Last week it was a straight up cover of “That Lady” serving as the basis for Kendrick Lamar’s “i.” This time, it’s a fresh re interpretation of The Isley’s sound from LA bassist Thundercat. Thundercat is a part of the burgeoning LA new music scene that gave Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” it’s rich, historical Black Music sound bed. “Them Changes”, today’s feature, is produced by frequent Thundercat collaborator, Flying Lotus. Flying Lotus also plays keyboards on the track. The song itself is a grooving, laid back psychedelic funk jam for Thundercat to spin his tale of romantic anguish over.
The song begins with one of the most instantly recognizable drum motifs in popular music, a sample of Ernie Isley’s well recorded, slow and funky, simple one two kick-snare, with half swing/half-straight eighth and sixteenth note hi hats drum beat that leads off The Isley’s classic infidelity groove ballad “Footsteps in the Dark.” The sample plays for two whole measures until it’s joined by Thundercat’s kaleidoscope bass. He plays on a six string Bass guitar, which allows him to lay down funky lowdown basslines, medium register single note syncopated guitar parts, and hold guitar like chords all at the same time. He’s also very fond of bass filters. Here, he has a thick filter on his bass, reminiscent of the Isley’s late bassist, Marvin. So over the “Footsteps in the Dark” drumbeat, he gives u a nasty growling bassline in the vein of Isley’s funk classics such as “The Pride.” The result is one of the best nods my head has enjoyed in a good while!
The verse begins with a COLD opening line: “Nobody move/there’s blood on the floor/and I can’t find my heart!” Thundercat sings in a high fragile voice reminiscent of Shuggie Otis, processed it would seem with chorus effect. He goes on to tell a disappointing love story in two concise verses of lyrics. The lyrics contain vivid imagery, such as this nugget, “Why in the world/would I give my heart to you?/Just to watch you throw it in the trash?” When Thundercat extends his lost heart story to the line “It must’ve fell when I lost my mind”, Producer Flying Lotus comes in with fairly busy piano chords that help fill in the groove, but sit back in the sound picture so they do not become too overbearing. More quacking, filtered wah wah lines are added to beef up the track. The song soon hits a mellow, sweet break with Thundercat crooning “oohs” and “aahs.” The texture of the pretty section reminds you of the type of singing break Stevie Wonder would write into one of his songs, while the harmonies themselves hit an Earth, Wind & Fire vibe on the triumphant “Ahs.”
After that pretty break the deep groove returns as Thundercat delivers the next verse. He uses a higher falsetto to increase the intensity, while also harmonizing some lines. He closes his verse on the line, “Now I’m sitting here/with a black hole in my chest/a heartless, broken mess.” He then sings and moans his “oohs and aah’s”, as if that’s all he could muster with the great pain he’s in. Kamasi Washington plays a texture solo that sits waaaay back in the mix and the band fades out sounding as if it had a hell of a lot more to say!
“Them Changes” hits me on several levels. For one the title reminds me of Buddy Miles smash hit by the same name, and I’ve always loved the old black slang expression “going through changes.” That phrase was one that came over from jazz music, whose songs usually feature a lot of chord changes, and a music in which matching chords to notes in real time represents part of the difficulty. I also love the “Footsteps in the Dark” drums, and the way Thundercat and Flying Lotus build a new song over it, while still containing some feel and vibe from The Isley’s musical styles. The song is a perfect one for lazy summer evenings. I’m also excited about the progress of Thundercat, because it’s been a long time since music in general and Black music in particular have had a star vocalist-bassist in the mold of Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham and Stanley Clarke. Everybody involved did great jobs here as they did on the rest of Thundercats new album, “The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam.” And I’m definitely looking forward to new music from this new bass hero!