Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Album Review: Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe

(Domino Records )

 Dev Hynes, the man behind Blood Orange, has been an interesting man to follow through his unpredictable musical career. He began as a member of the short-lived Test-Icicles, and despite the band name they gained some attention for their energetic mix of indie,punk and electronics. Still the band fell apart after one album and Hynes began releasing music as Lightspeed Champion taking on Bright Eyes and Mountain Goats style of confessional folk music. This in itself was a big departure but still felt like a more honest and comfortable fit for the seemingly restless musician. Now Dev Hynes has made another big change with his Blood Orange project, the product of studio time and an admiration for well-crafted pop music of the last few decades.  

Cupid Deluxe is his second album under this guise and sees him continue to mine Prince-like soul, as he brings in a wide range of collaborators, amongst them Dirty Projectors front man Dave Longstreth, sought after producer Clams Casino and New York rapper Despot. Still Hynes brings these disparate voices together into something cohesive, whilst many of the lyrics focus on relationships, and I really think this would make for a good breakup album, there is also an introspective look into youth and growing up.

Chamakay starts off with a modern, stripped back beat, and I make a point of saying it's modern because much of the album looks to the eighties for its points of reference. The track shows of Hynes production abilities, as the beat and melody leave lots of space for his hushed and soulful delivery as a female voice follows behind picking up his lines, “I tried my best last time/I'll leave you with your feelings/I'll leave you in your lies”. It's a song that stands up to repeated listens, its lush laid back feel can hide its detailed and emotional core. With its message of acceptance, It Is What It Is makes for a pleasingly optimistic change from the heartbreak, bouncing along on drum machine rhythms and marimbas. Elsewhere, Uncle Ace breaks down into the polyrhythm experiments of the Brian Eno-produced Talking Heads records, with jagged intertwined guitar melodies playing out ruptured funk.

 High Street features grime artist Skepta, with a beat taken down to its basics, just a bass drum and hi hats marking out a rhythm. It makes a nice change of tone near the end of Cupid Deluxe with lines like “I was in the club/doing the 2-step/wishing it was me on the decks/want to do it for the love” showing a complex rhyming scheme and and full of quick fire pop culture references tapping in to growing up in the nineties name checking everything from Michael Jackson to The Crystal Maze. Clipped On let's Despot's rapid delivery shine as the track recalls late eighties hip hop when acts like A Tribe Like Quest ruled hip hop, with its mid-tempo beat and record scratching (when was the last time you heard that on a record).

Still, as it is an undeniable pop record it unfortunately relies on a few pop clichés, including lines about 'playing games' showing up on more than one track amongst other llines you've heard in a million pop songs before it. Still Hynes shows himself to be a smart lyricist on most of the record with his thoughtful takes on relationships past and present and chooses collaborators who easily fit in with his aesthetic.

Whilst Cupid Deluxe pends much of its time looking back into the past, it does so in a way that contextualises its references as formative experiences of youth and intrinsic to growing up in a certain time, allowing genres like hip hop, funk, contemporary R&B and pop to sit easily next to each other. Time Will Tell ends Cupid Deluxe with a markedly positive tone, you feel that after all the relationships and inward thinking through the record you can come through it all ready to take on the next challenge. It seems that Dev Hynes may think the same way with everything he does as he moves from one project onto to whatever is next.

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