Released: 11 November 2013 (Domino)
By: Adam Wood
Dev Hynes has had a strange career. Prior to reaching some level of critical acclaim with his new release Cupid Deluxe under his moniker Blood Orange, he’d released three albums: one under Blood Orange, two under the name Lightspeed Champion, as well as a series of EP’s and bootlegs, and one with the now-defunct band Test Icicles. In addition to this, he’s written songs for extremely well-known and acclaimed artists such as The Chemical Brothers, Florence and the Machine, and Solange Knowles. Despite all of this, Dev Hynes was a very slept-on talent; this probably has roots in his pure unpredictability and inconsistency. Even a brief look at his Wikipedia page (no, I didn’t know off-hand that he’d written for Solange) tells you that “his genre” of music is either indie pop, folk, country, soul, or post-hardcore.
Now, who’s to say that any of these genres are wrong or right–most musicians should not and cannot be pigeonholed that easily. It’s impossible to claim that he found “his” voice, when any one of his monikers have led to the release of a different subcategory of music, but in Cupid Deluxe, Dev Hynes appears to have found a voice that appeals to the public in a way his past albums and EP’s have not.
Much of this appeal depends on Blood Orange’s ability to portray himself, through his music, as the speaker for a generation lost in the clutter and confusion of modern society. The entire concept of this album is based around the “New York Experience;” melding a wide variety of sounds, he clearly draws inspiration from different eras and geographical areas. All of which are held together by a particular cheeriness that Blood Orange has somehow trademarked. The album is also held together just as effectively by the idea of the “Teenage Experience.” As cliché as it may sound, this is an album about growing up and developing, characterized by a nearly ever-present sense of heartbreak, desperation, and loneliness that manages to coexist alongside the upbeat synths and bass lines that are abundant throughout the course of the album. This contributes a distinctly nostalgic feel to the album that harkens back to the 1980s, when life was simpler and a guy had ample time to dwell on his heartbroken, lovelorn self.
The album, though very cohesive in its vision and sound, benefits greatly from exterior presence and influence; it is extremely feature-heavy on both production and vocal credits. Album highlight and initial single “Chamakay” benefits greatly from the buoyant vocals of Caroline Polachek, intertwining enticingly with the melancholy tones in Hynes’s voice, and interrupted only by the cheerful marimbas that scatter themselves throughout the track. In a similarly love-stricken track later on the album, “Always Let U Down” heavily relies on a groovy, laidback bass-line to carry another heartbroken message from another female vocalist, Samantha Urbani. Despite show-stealing guest features such as these and the sentimental verse delivered from Skepta on “High Street,” Hynes is able to flex his vocal and production abilities in a manner that make sure his presence is always noted on any given track. That is perhaps the most impressive feat of this album, more so than any individual track or concept: somehow, Blood Orange has modernized ‘80s disco-pop to transform it into his own, almost glamorous trademark sound.
Though this album borders on the edge of tedious, relying too heavily on near-formulaic songs about heartbreak and the lovelorn spirit, Dev Hynes is able to maintain a cheerful spirit to his music that allows the tracks not to weigh their listeners down, making even his darkest, most melancholy songs come across as almost uplifting. This lends the album an addictive quality, particularly given the extraordinarily catchy nature of his hooks. Though I wasn’t overly impressed on the first listen, tracks like Chamakay kept me coming back, and ultimately made this album difficult to ignore as a supremely effective, if flawed, release.
Favorite Tracks: Chamakay, No Right Thing, You’re Not Good Enough
Rating: Like It