There’s power in repetition, even if that power comes from continuous expectation. Such is the case of Blood Orange’s debut solo album, Coastal Grooves, which builds on singular melodies throughout its ten tracks, never really building up to anything. That’s not a negative, per se; it’s more a statement regarding Dev Hynes’ titular grooves, and how he can use them to tell his stories. These are not overly ambitious tracks, yet they work because they just let their sound fill the speakers, relying more on tightly constructed composition than an experimental vibe.
Album opener “Forget It” starts off as a Pixies track gone skittish, pushing bass to the forefront while Hynes’ voice drives the melody forward (the little instrumentation that comes through is in the form of woozy keyboards flailing somewhere below the main mix, background noise to the drum and bass rock ‘n’ roll present here). There’s a new wave vibe present in the music, best demonstrated on the clear highlight, “The Complete Knock.” Clocking in at just over five minutes, the track starts with similarity; Hynes singing over a beat that doesn’t do much evolving. However, around the three-minute mark, the song turns futuristic, with robotic bleeps joining in on the fun, creating a weird sense of dual-era, future and past all at once.
A weird question to ask about Coastal Grooves is: how do you listen to it? It seems to be a dance album for people on downers, people drunkenly stumbling around a late warehouse party as the sun comes up and the blemishes of the previous night emerge. Its repetition plays on that fact, as the listener is not challenged with barrages of idiosyncratic sounds; instead, it’s a smooth listen, as smooth a listen as you will get from an album so infused with funk and summer music. No track better represents that quality than “Complete Failure,” which is a slow burner that runs through its quiet sound with a few guitar riff speedbumps, as if to wake people up from their drunken stupors. It isn’t always exciting, but it’s almost always interesting.
Blood Orange may not be what fans of Hynes’ old work (Test Icicles and Lightspeed Champion) are looking for. It’s not as fancy or quirky as either of those, and at no point will the listener feel uncomfortable or out of place. This is just a refining of music trends, done by a guy who knows how to twist sound into what he demands from it. It just so happens that he demands a bit of summery, Brooklyn rock here. By not exerting himself, Hynes manages to craft an easy-to-listen, easy-to-enjoy album that will be spun as a change of pace. Those who make a playlist of all his work will find it a jarring one at that, a new twist on an established sound.