Jonathan Bree’s solo career has taken an interesting journey since 2014 when he began playing with identity and performance styles beneath a ‘faceless’ mask, and intense, string-heavy ballads.
Bree’s new album ‘Pre-Code Hollywood’ has taken this romantic, heavily string-arranged sound, and shifted it towards dark synth-based disco and pop, with some sublime guitar courtesy of Chic’s Nile Rogers. Rogers contributed guitar to the title track and the brilliant disco-funk single Miss You, a duet with between Bree and his frequent collaborator, Princess Chelsea. The pair collaborate again on Destiny, which hits hard as a chilly, intimate, and minimal synth-driven ballad that has Bree’s trademark undercurrent of desolation.
The album starts with the delicate, light-as-air music box chiming of City Baby, before developing emotional weight and instrumental depth. The ‘Pre-Code Hollywood’ title refers to the period in Hollywood between the end of silent films and the introduction of the censorship guidelines (the Hays Code) which limited cinematic freedoms, freedom of speech, and cultural progression. The title track takes that reference and then applies it to the language and generational gaps of contemporary culture.
The glissando strings of Bree’s earlier albums have not altogether disappeared – Epicurean and Politics feature them, while Politics pairs strings with the synths and disco beats. This album is clearly Bree’s creation – he performed, produced, engineered and mixed it (Nile Rogers co-produced Miss You and Pre-Code Hollywood) and made excellent use of the performances by all instrumentalists and vocalists.
Bree is an exceptional song crafter, and this material is some of the most realised of his career. You get the distinct impression that these songs – like the gorgeous ’80s influenced When We Met – may be more autobiographical than he would like to admit, with the heartbreak sounding very close to the bone. Or then again, maybe that’s just part of the performance.