Dev Hynes work as Blood Orange lead some of the most intricate and creative R&B music, blending genres in a way that creates a unique, new-wave aesthetic over the course of a project. The instrumental and vocal work on Freetown Sound are what attracted me to him, as it seemed to me as a layered and thoughtful approach to the genre. Hynes comes across as very deliberate in the details of his work, maximising quality through a careful hand and diverse instruments and sounds.
On Negro Swan, Hynes’ focuses is clearly set on poetic lyricism as well as the theme of black loneliness, sorrow, hope, and the desire to be loved both by others and oneself. This manifests itself both in the intricacy of “Jewelry,” a layered song which delves into both loneliness and the need for confidence, and the glorious vocal work of “Saint,” a personal favorite on the album. Hynes manages to turn Negro Swan into a journey that fluctuates between whispers and screams, a meaningful art piece on what it is to want to be happy about being oneself.
Admittedly, I should love it more than I loved Freetown Sound. It’s not that I disliked it. In fact, I love specific moments, namely the way Hynes manages to incorporate Puff Daddy on “Hope” and the use of spoken word in a way consistent with his earlier work. I adore the message of the album as well as the vocal work on songs like “Take Your Time” and the simplicity of “Vulture Baby.” It’s amazing. But it’s personal direction factors out the new-wave catchiness of songs like “Best For You” and hones in on communicating beautiful and human emotions.
Now, this doesn’t mean that anyone reading this should avoid the album. You certainly should not; it is necessary listening. But, rather, I would be remiss to hide how much I view this as less accessible and an unexpected shift from Freetown Sound. Frankly, this album is a bit of a slog whereas Freetown Sound seemed to flow more effortlessly across its tracks. However, it’s difficult to level this critique when it’s also very clear that Hynes’ intention was to craft a much darker, slower record which showed a fluid mental state. This is a mission at which he succeeded.
In short, what I’m trying to get at is that Negro Swan is an amazing album that shines as an achievement, but goes away from the original, sweet sound which prominized and drew me to Blood Orange. It’s beautiful in its sadness as well as its hope, encapsulating feelings of dark depressive afternoons spent in a room over analyzing and talking to yourself. It’s a lonely, dark-room listen on an antisocial Sunday evening.