I've always had a soft spot for falsetto, funk and early '80s pop. So, after reading so many Prince references in Blood Orange reviews - "recalling mid-'80s Prince," "repurposing Prince's '80s period," "like chill indie Prince," "the Prince-infused Blood Orange," etc., etc. - I finally had to check out the music.
So, naturally, I started with the single "Chamakay" for the project's new album, "Cupid Deluxe," and I was instantly sold. Yeah, it was like Prince, but Dev Hynes, the man behind the music, wasn't trying to be like His Royal Badness; he was just donning a particular aesthetic and rocking it well (much like Haim). The R&B vibe, sultry vocals, pure joy and endlessly pleasing chorus make for pop bliss and a song that I don't mind keeping on repeat over and over again.
Lucky for us, "Chamakay" is the defining effort on the record. Hynes, a British songwriter and comic book artist who lives in New York City's East Village, told the New York Times that before Caroline Polachek of Chairlift recorded her part for the tune, the entire album was going to be a different thing. Apparently her "pillow-soft" backing vocals gave him the license to make the Massive Attack-influenced work that he had always wanted to.
Pictured is the album cover for the new Blood Orange album, “Cupid Deluxe.”
Perhaps Polachek's contribution made Hynes see a different color in the notes as well. This may sound like hippie garbledygook, but in this case, it's definitely not: Hynes suffers from a neurological condition called synesthesia. He actually sees colors when he hears sounds. So, "Blood Orange" is not only a label, it's also one of the colors he sees while performing these funky tunes.
"With Blood Orange, I thought it would be interesting to try and write music which produced the most visually attractive color patterns for me, curious to see if other people would react to the music in a similar way," he told Interview Magazine. As far as I'm concerned - with this record as evidence - this might as well be a superpower.
Hynes' "powers" already have been present in the world of music for a while, despite the fact that he's relatively unknown. The kid who grew up in London playing piano and cello has co-written or produced songs for The Chemical Brothers, Florence and the Machine and Sky Ferreira, along with helping pop stars Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue in the studio as well. He's now starting to forge an independent identity and if "Cupid Deluxe" is any indication, Hynes still isn't in a hurry to be in the spotlight. He often lets his collaborators, which include David Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors, take center stage and frequently allows his vocals to blend in with the music rather than dominate it. But even though his breathy voice isn't always at the forefront, it's always gorgeous. Hynes claims to have modeled his vocals on singers like Marvin Gaye, Todd Rundgren, Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper, and it's paid off. His delivery is artful and deliberate, and his falsetto soars in songs like "No Such Thing," a standout track.
Another highlight is "You're Not Good Enough," which features some Dylan-like cruelty in spite of the fact that it features a performance by Hynes' girlfriend, Samantha Urbani. It's fascinating that they can sing "I never was in love/ You know that you were never good enough/ Fall asleep right next to me/ You know that you were never good enough" so passionately together and not mean it.
The album ends with "Time Will Tell," which is driven by a thumping beat like the ones Alicia Keys has put to good use in her best singles ("Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart"). It's one of those engulfing bedroom pop ballads that brings us back to Prince and leaves us, like most of the songs on the album, looking for a cigarette.