Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe
Release Date: November 12, 2013
Record Label: Domino
Principle among those who would have helped the imaginary concept of “indie pop” into the grave is Devonté "Dev" Hynes, the man behind Sky Ferreira’s lauded “Everything is Embarrassing,” and Solange’s yearning romp “Losing You.” Both are impossibly endearing pieces from nominally pop artists seemingly catering, with unmatched success, to the sensibilities of a more “high minded” audience. Hynes, working under his Blood Orange moniker, draws heavily from the same inspiration that made “Losing You” such an ingratiating piece, putting the same sort of funk and rattling percussion into service over much of the eleven tracks on sophomore album Cupid Deluxe. Despite the fact that the first Blood Orange record was titled Coastal Grooves, 2013’s follow up is a much more realized expression of both conceits.
The R&B ruminations of opener “Chamakay” are soaked through by synth aural imports reminiscent of strains of Caribbean music, and the closing sax is accompanied by the lonesome female vocals (provided by Caroline Polachek) that meandered through the coastal haze alongside Hynes. Lending the sedate romance of the song a peculiar charge is Hynes’ clear statement that “I see you’re waiting for a girl like me to come along” - a blink-and-you-miss-it statement of gender fluidity that makes the album art seem less like a joke made in poor taste and more like a confession. It is a passing surprise that subsides nearly immediately, only lingering long enough to make the skeptical recognize that the feeling beneath remains valid regardless of source or who is vocalizing it. And for those keeping score at home, the first Blood Orange record featured a number of songs from a female perspective but this does not diminish the importance or intrigue of the casual handling of the topic here. Unlike his ghostwriting/indie R&B peer Frank Ocean, who’s own ambiguous sexuality became focal point of the critical analysis of Channel ORANGE; Hynes seems disinterested in casting off into largely uncharted territories exploring the complexities of gender norms in relationships. Few times is mention of the female perspective made explicit again, but there are other ways to communicate such things.
As his work as a writer for hire shows, Hynes is keenly aware of when to withdraw and cede the spotlight to someone else. Female guest vocalists take center stage and only magnify the androgynous falsetto that Hynes sings in; most notably on “Chosen,” A hybridization of bashful spoken word and a vaguely spiritual glimmer of jazz uplift, “Chosen” features his crooning that “it’s in the way that he moves/but I don’t want to choose,” a standard invocation of confused desire that does not suffer in resonance for its frequent occurrence. Or consider “Always Let U Down,” where “Chamakay” is reversed and Hynes plays the role of complementary vocalist, handing the reins off to another for the majority of the track.It speaks volumes that the vitriolic (yet readily dancable) “You’re Not Good Enough” is helmed by Dev, as is the uncomplicated comfort in gender on the opener, but the subdued vulnerability of “Down” is led by someone else.
Speckled with an array of vocalists, it would be easy to become lost in the somnambulist cacophony if Hynes’ hand was not there to guide you through the fog at all times. The most disconcerting moment is the appearance of grime rapper Skepta on a track that isn’t the straightforward hip-hop of “Clipped On.” The penultimate “High Street” and “Clipped On” are the only moments where one might be hesitant to react effusively, and only then only because the songs are outliers in the otherwise consistent midtempo hooks that are the norm.
Devonté Hynes has long made startling comments about his relationship to music, including issuing a Blood Orange 7” simply to discover what induced his preference in Madonna tracks. This attitude of methodical exploration frequently held Dev back in the past, but with the warm voices and aid of friends on Cupid Deluxe, he's managed to write his most empathetic album to date. Often misty eyed and always misty, the sophomore album from Blood Orange makes a compelling argument that a stroll on the beach can be as affecting alone as it is alongside a partner.
It seems that most reviewers of this album are ignoring the fact that the melodies are pretty unmemorable. This is the main failing of the album, and it seems to be the main problem in all of Hynes' work. "Losing you" and "embarassing" both have cool aesthetics and crazy hooks, but none of that seems to have carried over onto this album. "You're not good enough" seems to have the only memorable chorus on here. anyone else agree?