by Andrew Garrison
Dev Hynes, currently better known as Blood Orange has gone through his fair share of musical transformation. Nearly ten years ago the 18 year old Devonte joined with other young Londoners in the hilariously named dance-punk-crossover group Test Icicles. I could spend a couple hundred words chronicling Hynes musical transformation from genitalia-named project to where we are today with Cupid Deluxe. But because that sounds remarkably labor intensive and a standing invitation to hordes of “tl;dr” I will just leave you with the highlights: Wrote for The Chemical Brothers and Florence + the Machine. Released some music under the name Lightspeed Champion. Made a debut under the current moniker Blood Orange on 2011’s Coastal Groves. In 2012 he worked Beyonce‘s sister on her EP True and Sky Ferreira‘s “Everything is Embarrassing”.
Got all of that? Good. With this musical transition that has occurred over the better part of a decade for Hynes, he has also physically relocated from London to LA to NYC and Cupid Deluxe is reflecting his current hometown. However their is a light airiness to the entire album that plays like a soundtrack for a romantic vagabond. Drifting somewhere timezones and decades of pop music, Hynes creates a woozy, funky, hip yet occasionally dizzying project that showcases Hynes’ production ability.
One of the strongest parts of this album is the placement and impact that guests vocalists have. A prime example occurs on the first track, “Chamakay” which features Chairlift‘s Caroline Polachek. Polachek’s and Hynes’ vocals pair phenomenally well together and it sounds as if the highs and lows are engaging in a dance of desire with one another. This back and forth effect is only supported by the throbbing drums that are consistent throughout. This track ends with a very retro sax line that flows seamlessly into the 1979-80 Prince homage “You’re Not Enough”. The strutting and sultry sound of casting off a former lover with a so much venom (“I never was in love, you know that you were never good enough”) that you have to purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.
“Uncle ACE” leads off with the funky sax and a synthy-drum-poppy beat which all in all works crazy well. The song has a very androgynous sound to it, with its mix of high and low vocals, powerful sax and guitar solos, “Uncle ACE” seems to have an identity in its’ lack thereof, like many of the youths in NYC who call the ACE line their home some nights.
Once again we get strong guests vocals, this time from Dirty Projector‘s Dave Longstregth, which on “No Right Thing” come across deep and soulful over a strong, sometimes overpowering World Music type of beat. One of the coolest production effects on the album occurs when the female vocals come in and with them a keyboard line that tumbles right along with the song. Other guest appearances come in a more traditional hip-hop sense with Queens-based rapper Despot on “Clipped On” and UK grime founding father Skepta on “High Street”. These three songs are actually some of my favorite on the album. In all cases the respective guest does an outstanding job with the verses they have been tasked with and their parts are well supported by Hynes’ expert production.
No one, after listening to this album with doubt Hynes’ production ability and general talent in mixing drums, keys, synths, horns and guitars on most of the tracks. Which for the most part, he does masterfully. However, at times the woozy-haziness of the sounds can turn dizzying. In fact, there are some songs on the album which come across as downright self-indulgent. Sometimes it takes the form of nearly a full minute of bar-chatter at the end of “You’re Not Enough”. Other times it is the fact that “It Is What It Is” seems to be split directly in half with very little substance coming from the back end of the track. Perhaps the most egregious example comes from the nearly seven minute long “Chosen” which leads off with two minutes of speaking-vocals and doesn’t really seem to bring much else for the remainder of the song, either. Other songs like “Always Let U Down” and “On The Line” ran on for probably 60-90 seconds too long as well.
All things considered, Cupid Deluxe is a pretty good piece of pop music. While at times it can be repetitive, redundant and self-indulgent, isn’t all pop music? While at some point a bit of restraint could have been exercised, the guest appearances do a pretty good job of mixing things up and providing some much needed variance in tone and sound. Play Cupid Deluxe as background music when you are having friends over to a cocktail party and you want to seem cool&trendy&hip, because, ultimately, this album is cool&trendy&hip.