BLOOD ORANGE'S 'CUPID DELUXE'
Devonté Hynes has a lot of ideas. The Houston-born, London-raised, New York-based musician/producer/singer/songwriter can bring to life seemingly any number of divergent but equally compelling musical projects. First, we knew him as a member of angsty noise outfit Test Icicles. Then he mellowed out and tried on an indie, folk-tinged sound as Lightspeed Champion. But it is as a songwriter dabbling primarily within the parameters of pop and R&B that the 27-year-old has found his groove.
As a songwriter and producer, Hynes has worked with Florence Welch, Britney Spears, and the Chemical Brothers, but his more recent collaborations with Solange Knowles and Sky Ferreira helped make him the go-to du jour in contemporary R&B, and established the new groundwork for Blood Orange, his solo project and perhaps the one truest to his voice to date.
Cupid Deluxe, his new LP under the moniker, is a wonder—a glimmering, soundscapey take on R&B that sounds at once desolate and hopeful, like a soundtrack to New York at night. The album pulls together disparate references and themes, and sees Hynes and a coterie of female vocalists shape-shifting as they move through moods. It returns to the indelibly Eighties sound that Hynes devised with Solange and that successfully established her as the reigning queen of Alt&B. The vocals are breathy, personal lamentations about love and life, with tender-hearted accusations lobbed at lovers past and present. The softly-layered vocal arrangements, loose song structures, and skittering drums that made Solange’s True EP a delight equally find their place on Blood Orange’s latest release.
The throwback sound is updated with a drowsy, considerably fuzzier finish than the pop hits from which it takes its cues, so much so that saxophone solos and power drums that would be clichéd elsewhere manage to work. Alongside Eighties pop references, the New Wave and funk groove influences that were all over Blood Orange’s 2011 début Coastal Grooves are present here too, with Hynes citing Massive Attack and Malcolm McLaren as specific points of departure.
Much of Cupid Deluxe is centered on the premise of male-female duets; with the exception of three songs, every track features a female vocal, mostly from girlfriend Samantha Urbani of Williamsburg band Friends, as well as Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and London soul singer Tawiah. The back-and-forth plays out like eavesdropping on a series of intimate conversations, with the exchanges often overpowering Hynes’ solo singing.
On “Uncle Ace,” a song that references New York’s A-C-E line, which is known to serve as a makeshift home for many of the city’s homeless youth, Hynes captures the discomfit of the metropolis—it is a sound distinctly rooted in time and place, building to a cinematic climax that echoes the subway’s yelps and growls.
But Hynes’ real talent is his predilection for nailing down vocals and melodies that somersault and then take root and sound just as fitting anchored in context on an independent release in 2013 as they would sung in the multi-octaves of Céline Dion. If anything, Cupid Deluxe is a demo reel of sorts, showcasing his universality and range.
Cupid Deluxe is out now from Domino Records.
Rawiya Kameir is a writer and editor in New York. She spends a lot of time on the Internet.