Monday, April 15, 2019

Album Review: Bruce Hornsby - Absolute Zero

Even though Bruce Hornsby's sound has undeniably evolved over the past thirty-something years, and anyone who's followed his career know he is no stranger to stylistic changes, nothing could quite prepare us for the sonic deviations of Absolute Zero.

Hornsby's singing and songwriting as good and recognisable as ever: the radicalism lies in the production style. A complex, almost experimental style which clashes with the simple, traditional quality of the substance. It's that friction that makes the whole thing so interesting.

The overall mood seems quite bittersweet: whether musically or lyrically, there is a thread of melancholy throughout the whole record, even on the faster numbers. But then again, that has been a constant in his output.

Absolute zero: ethereal pop with jazz drums courtesy of Jack De Johnette.

Fractals has a straighforward rock melody over complex Chamber Jazz arrangements with heavy percussions. It probably best exemplifies the whole tone of the album. Textures, colours and styles fusing to create something that feels at once familiar and adventurous.

Cast-Off is a piano ballad with electronic flourishes and features Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.

Meds is a hypnotic ballad with otherworldly backing vocals and synth strings.

For this reviewer, Never In This House is the highlight of the record. It features a poignant melody, an exquisite vocal performance and a stunning musical accompaniment by young chamber orchestra yMusic.

Voyager One features is given the same treatment but is a more uptempo, almost funky tune. The contrast between the orchestral arrangement and the upbeat groove is, again, the perfect illustration of the album's raison d'ĂȘtre.

Echolocation is the closest song on the album to a "traditional" Americana song. Again, the production style is what sets this apart from other similar songs in his repertoire: sparse, it's almost produced by subtraction, a shadow production of sorts, the kind that could have been obtained with the use of Oblique Strategies

The Blinding Light Of Dreams is another rock/orchestral collage which sounds like Sting singing over a Bernard Herrmann score...

White Noise is another example of fusion of classic songwriting and more avant-garde arrangements.

The last song Take You There (Misty) again features yMusic and is the only song that could have featured as is on any of his other records... At least until the coda which is almost prog rock.

A very adventurous, unexpected, almost baroque record that confounds the general public's perception of Bruce Hornsby as a safe, middle of the road, adult contemporary performer. By changing up his fomula yet retaining the same overall spirit, we can now see him for what he is: a stylist.

Genre: Pop/Rock
Release Date: April 12th, 2019
Label: Zappo Productions
Rating: 7/10

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