Inspired from his bout with a head injury, the title of Cory Wong’s newest album, “The Optimist,” comes after doctors telling him that his injury could go a few ways, from dying in two weeks to recovering with little to no issues. After this face slap by life itself, the Minnesota funk musician took his then 16-year-old self and optimistically embraced the world as a musician with a scribbly written death note.
2018 finds Cory Wong maturing into his middle years, inspired by those who came before and wanting to inspire those who will come after. Recorded with a reputable team of session musicians, his newest album was penned in six days, a fraction of what the normal album-recording process takes.
Although quantity always affects quality, the word “rushed” and its implications of sub par quality come to mind, but albums such as Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” or The Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” were recorded more quickly than Wong’s forthcoming album. So, what gives?
Wong has been producing music since his late teens, and “The Optimist” is the antithesis of his work ethic. The path to staying true comes with determination and intrigue, something that a hissing death rattle might bring to a young male and stay with him throughout his years.
Following up 2017’s colorful “The Current,” Wong’s newest work features a number of collaborators, which offers him a caveat. The most vibrant feature is the Michael Nelson-led “Hornheads,” for which Wong wrote and performed the majority of Prince’s horn arrangements. It’s impressive that they — despite their age — can keep up with these younger musicians and still synergize the sound.
“We fit right in as friends because they love seeing young musicians with such passion,” Wong said. “Michael told me that after Prince died, it was really fun for him to find a new artist to work with on stuff like this, and it’s been a great community-building thing. We even have a musicians’ racquetball club together now.”
Balls literally to the wall aside, the presentation is what nails the landing for Cory Wong. The musician — continuing the practice from his debut album — filmed the production sessions and recorded the collaborators in front of green screens, creating footage to bring an intentionally campy vibe to his music videos.
The single, titled “Jax,” for the upcoming record is a live-filmed upbeat funk jam between Cory Wong and his studio musicians. The studio footage is layered with cut-out figments of the Hornheads performing while the gang performs the exciting blend of Talking Heads inspired pop-funk that should make up the bulk of “The Optimist.”