The chameleon muscle that is Devonté Hynes’ trajectory from freewheelin’ punkist (Test Icicles) to anti-folk humorist (Lightspeed Champion) to en vogue producer (Solange, Sky Ferreira), can make project Blood Orange seem like just another phase in the 27-year-old’s insatiable sonic palette, especially with his UK-bred dry wit – see him roast himself in the faux promo interview for Cupid Deluxe. But at the same time he’s been forthright with his ambitions for his second LP under the moniker since crossing the pond to take on the Big Apple, citing deadpan in said video that, “transitions, life transitions, moving, from a stable position, to an unstable position – all things that we’ve been through,” are the lifeblood of its 11 tracks.
All of which is true to the tension that binds the record, which is overtly tailored around love and relationship woes. Hynes sticks with an equally cohesive sonic regimen of steamy gleaming, progressive R&B the same, kissed with purple shades of Prince and Talking Heads guitar shakes, save for a few guest hip-hop verses and his largest army of collaborators yet from Dirty Projectors‘ David Longstreth to Chairlift‘s Caroline Polachek. It doesn’t always melt. Skepta‘s rap deviates too far or cryptic from the ingrained narrative. “On the Line” is redundant and XX-ish bland. But when it does, this is what it sounds like when New York City pigeons cry. So go five of Cupid Deluxe‘s best depictions of the complexities of urban love.
A tieback to a Guyanese word – some of Hynes’ roots – he calls it a “slight red herring in regards to the rest of the music on the album.” Perhaps that’s particular to its Guyanese elements, as the production sets the 80s midtown shoulder-pad smooth tone supreme, meandering sax and all, with a steamy back-and-forth with Chairlift’s Polachek, protagonist decreeing he’s “nothing if not subtle” in the heartache realm. A classic shade of self-deprecating East Coast socialite lust unfolds: [LISTEN]
From 80s midtown shoulder-pad smooth to neighborhood club grit, the bitterness gets set in motion with a bass groove and flash funk strut so sly it should come with a Love Symbol #2. Time-stamping the charade with a clutch “49 day” frame, the cut is nice and fresh for Hynes to let his narrator tell his lover like it really was, good and unsatisfying, and to basically, when not caving, to beat it, yo, there’s a megapolis of future options:
Anger subsiding for a moment of clarity like one of the few MTA Brooklyn to Manhattan train rides that doesn’t get to its destination via underground, city lights sparkling immensely North, Hynes comes as close as ever to mastering whatever the aim of Cupid Deluxe, that gleaming funk guitar work cut in its purest form, female vocal dueting along with an island disco xylophone fill that chases a meditational existential perspective on love only a New Yorker with a sense of the city’s definition of a minute can understand. Breathe, it is what it is:
Increasingly realizing he’s more hung up on his love than he thought, Hynes layers the ethereal Prince heartache over Despot’s frothy wait-a-minute aggressions, chicka-chicka-wicka-wicka slide opening a shuffle for all the harsh memories to flood back. You can’t make a New York-themed record without some rhymes. And lurid anecdotes from one of Queen’s finest does the vindication thread just right:
Companion piece to the golden R&B strides of “It is What it Is,” Hynes does the record right and sequences its strongest sentiments of transitional poetics right at its swan song end, letting the piano shine, digi-drums to get gritty, to capture the manic holiness of urban love, as it “keeps on running back,” waxing under the concrete jungle of Bowery light if time really will tell, and the moves that need to be made should it not: [LISTEN]