Friday Dec 8, 2023 7:30 pm
With opener CARM
By mid-March 2020 Bruce Hornsby, in that now historical year, had completed a brief tour of five concerts. “Then all of a sudden, wham!” Hornsby remembers, “Everything shut down.” With “Non-Secure Connection” to release in summer, Hornsby began promoting the album. “So that was fine,” he says, following with an innocent refrain that would become spooky that pre-spring among active musicians globally: “But our tours got postponed or cancelled.”
“’Flicted,” the album Hornsby then began to create, marks the conclusion of what Hornsby calls a trilogy, inaugurated with the lauded “Absolute Zero” (2019,) in which the native and longtime resident of Williamsburg, Virginia intermingles his diverse musical passions, recording not exactly a self-invented genre but a world of vibrant sound and text all Hornsby’s own.
The twelve songs that comprise “’Flicted’ take their starting points from soundtrack scoring, the visuals-linked area of music composition with a distinguished history. Inexorably at home, Hornsby investigated again the “cues” he had written for the director Spike Lee, with whom Hornsby has worked since 1990. These abbreviated instrumental score passages had sparked song creation on his two previous albums.
“I was stuck in my house,” Hornsby says, “so I gathered up some cues I hadn’t used on ‘Absolute Zero’ and ‘Non-Secure Connection.” Additionally, he considered
closely a riff he had asked a collaborator from ‘Absolute Zero’ – Blake Mills, a Los Angeles songwriter-producer and, as Hornsby describes him, “sprung-from-Zeus guitarist” – to record. “Blake gave me,” Hornsby says, “about a minute-and-a-half of this little thing.” For the final installment of his trilogy, Bruce Hornsby was off to the races.
And yet, the 2020 routes of the “’Flicted” songs were less determined by European and American 20th -century modern classical composition than by the fleet ear-bud zings and danceable grooves of 21st-century high-speed rail: This is a Bruce Hornsby album informed by the lucid atonal challenges and serialistdissonant
flows of its two predecessors but significantly more pop. Produced by Tony Berg, who adds his sense of 1960s Los Angeles studio rock to the mix, and Hornsby, the broad impression “’Flicted” builds is not divorced from the formally advanced “electric pop” of, say, a heavily streamed Taylor Swift-Zayn Malik duet. This is bold.
The contributions on these songs, moreover, made by yMusic, the Brooklyn chamber sextet co-founded by violinist Rob Moose, heightens the command of
energy, substance, and rhythm this Hornsby music wields. Rhythm especially: “James Brown,” Hornsby says, citing the instrumental and professional rigor
famously, mercilessly enforced in bands led by one of the surest geniuses of any music anywhere, “would not fire yMusic.” This is modern sound not as voiced by Silicon Valley’s lushest tech but rather the blood and flesh and heart of top-flight instudio playing immemorial.
Hornsby casts “’Flicted,” as he did the new album’s two predecessors, with the incisiveness Quincy Jones exercised on his own solo albums, always recorded
with various singers, musicians, and other creative and technical collaborators. Throughout his long career – begun with his international hit “The Way It Is,” whose
romantic Steinway ecstasies the late rapper Tupac Shakur sampled on his track “Changes,” anticipating the current era of The Song v. The Album in recorded pop – Hornsby’s engaging tenor has proceeded consistently. Without employing the idiosyncrasies of Bob Dylan or Neil Young, it travels its own singer-songwriter way, elevating ruminations on Appalachian cultures or addressing urban literary and scientific research with an everyday unruffled ease.
Other singers on “’Flicted’ include Ezra Koenig, of New York’s Vampire Weekend; Danielle Haim, lead singer of LA pop-rockers Haim; Ethan Gruska, the
Hollywood artist, composer, producer, and member of several West coast indie bands; and Z. Berg, formerly of the LA band The Like.
Recently Hornsby and Chip deMatteo, Williamsburg natives, friends and cowriters since kindergarten, spoke about the songs on “’Flicted’.” DeMatteo, a
lyricist, writes with the concentrated dramatic force of the canniest theater writers when providing texts for Hornsby’s musical compositions. “Days Ahead,” the third release from the new album, focuses on the complex interlocking observations and anxieties of anticipating periods of some real duration closed away from others, separate and apart from routine daily conduct.
“The narrator,” deMatteo says, “dreads the accumulation of the coming weeks, the uncertainty of knowing just how their potentially suffocating natures may unfold, what will happen.” Following that lay the immediate futures of those time periods: “And then the knowing,” deMatteo says, “that going outside as before only mirrors the same concerns.” The text offers a terrifically concise, devastating portrait of the often-warring emotions in the pandemic.
Hornsby began his own comments with “Sidelines,” which opens “’Flicted,” continuing in sequence.
Learn more at: www.brucehornsby.com
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