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 set to be released in the summer, Hornsby began promoting his latest album. “So that was fine,” he says, following with an innocent refrain that would become spooky that spring among active musicians globally: “But our tours got postponed or cancelled.”
’Flicted (2022), the new 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, VA intermingles his diverse musical passions, recording a world of vibrant sound and text that is all Hornsby’s own.
The 12 songs that comprise ’Flicted take their starting points from soundtrack scoring—the visuals-linked area of music composition that has a distinguished history. Inexorably at home, Hornsby investigated the “cues” he wrote earlier for director Spike Lee, who Hornsby has worked with since 1990. These abbreviated instrumental score passages 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 closely considered a riff he had asked an Absolute Zero collaborator—Blake Mills, an LA 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, Hornsby was off to the races.
And yet, the stylistic choices on ’Flicted were less determined by European and American 20th-century modern classical traditions than by the fleet, ear-bud zings and danceable grooves of the 21st-century; this is a Hornsby album informed by the lucid, atonal challenges and serialist, dissonant flows of its two predecessors, but significantly more by today’s pop music. Produced by Tony Berg, who adds his sense of 1960s Los Angeles studio rock to the mix, and Hornsby himself, the broad impression ’Flicted builds is not divorced from the formally advanced electro-pop of a heavily streamed Taylor Swift-Zayn Malik duet.
The contributions on these songs made by yMusic, the Brooklyn Chamber sextet co-founded by violinist Rob Moose, heightens the command of energy, substance, and especially rhythm. “James Brown,” Hornsby says, citing the instrumental and professional rigor famously and mercilessly enforced in bands 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, in- studio 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.
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.
Throughout his long career, Hornsby’s engaging tenor has been at the forefront of his music, starting with his international hit “The Way It Is,” whose romantic Steinway ecstasies the late rapper Tupac Shakur sampled on his track “Changes.” 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.
Biography provided by artist management.