Devonté Hynes, aka Blood Orange, doesn’t care how cool or uncool we think he is. He doesn’t care what we think, actually. It’s no wonder then that his recent video for the piano-studded, heartbreak hotel number, Time Will Tell, features him dressed in all white, dancing wildly, even awkwardly, in a bare studio alone. To make it perfectly clear that your opinion doesn’t matter, comments are off (in fact, comments are off on all videos under Hynes’ YouTube account). The teasing continues on Uncle Ace, where Blood Orange affirms that this is the Blood Orange show: “Does this feel easy, ’cause it’s all you get from me.” But he has a solid reason to hold back and block out the white noise—Cupid Deluxe, Hynes’ intricately crafted release on Domino, is the rich reward of doing exactly what he wants.
Hynes, formerly of Test Icicles and Lightspeed Champion, has written for big musical wigs like the Chemical Brothers and Florence And The Machine. He’s also produced music for Basement Jaxx, Theophilus London, Solange and Sky Ferreira. Cupid Deluxe is an amalgamation of Hynes’s many talents. He does most of them effortlessly, though singing is undoubtedly his least convincing role. For that reason, this album is flooded with guest appearances from rappers and singers including British grime emcee Skepta and David Longstreth (Dirty Projectors), who joins Hynes for the flickering Clams Casino-produced track, “No Right Thing.” But it’s the crystallized vocals of female voices like Samantha Urbani (Friends) and Caroline Polachek (Chairlift) that really smooth out the kinks in Hynes’s wobbly vocal performances.
For the album’s opening track, Chamakay, Polachek’s heavenly vocals mimic the sounds of the lushly layered horns and marimba and kalimba drums, and blend seamlessly with Hynes’s talk-singing. In the song, Hynes grumbles about a difficult lover: “I tried my best last time/I’ll leave you with your feelings/I’ll leave you in your lies.” The Prince-inspired, starry ‘80s throwback, You’re Not Good Enough, finds Hynes tossing more darts where it hurts—at his lover’s heart. “I never was in love,” he confesses in his usual breathy timbre, “You know that you were never good enough.” So while he may not want to hear your comments, he’s adept at dishing them himself.
From the saxophone-led Chosen, which features a melancholy monologue from Dossier Brochette, to the mellow breakup-to-makeup jam, On the Line, featuring Adam Bainbridge and Samatha Urbani, Hynes is either a little bit in love or out of it, but never completely committed to either sentiment. By the time Clipped On comes up, he’s done with over-romanticizing. He taps Queens-based rapper Despot to deliver cutting yet magnetic rhymes about a femme fatale that nobody saw coming, which counterpoises Hynes’s slightly more dispirited vocals about the loneliness he feels in his lover’s absence. There are more surprises in Always Let U Down, like tightly knit samples from the Fat Boys’ Stick Em and Grace Jones’s Nipple To The Bottle.
On Cupid Deluxe, Hynes works as a carpenter of sorts, taking influences and elements from a variety of genres (electronic to funk to R&B) to form his nostalgic ’80s synth-pop within a modern alternative R&B scaffolding. It leaves you half-fulfilled because of the album’s predominantly nocturnal tendencies. A little more daylight would balance out the vibe. But that’s a minor complaint. In fact, on further listens it becomes the album’s appeal. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to midnight wanderings on the town, this is it.