Album Review: “Cupid Deluxe” by Blood Orange

Album Review: Cupid Deluxe by Blood Orange

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Groovy sophomore album highlights the ever-changing musical persona of Dev Hynes

New York City-based singer-songwriter-producer Devonté “Dev” Hynes is a chameleon.

He started off in 2004 as a member of the noisy post-punk group Test Icicles but soon transformed into the adorably bespectacled troubadour of his melody-driven folk project, Lightspeed Champion. Shortly thereafter, Hynes decided to change direction once more, revealing the hipper Blood Orange sound rooted in indie R&B with a lush pop sensibility. This constant metamorphosis has made Hynes one to keep an eye on.

A follow-up to the 2011 Blood Orange LP “Coastal Grooves,” his sophomore release, “Cupid Deluxe,” bears many sonic similarities with the previous album. The avant-garde hooks, dreamy vocal layers, warped synthesizers and funky beats recall the standout tracks “Sutphin Boulevard” and “Champagne Coast” from the first album. (In a tongue-in-cheek throwback, “Time Will Tell” even mimics the line “Come into My Bedroom” from “Champagne Coast.”) However, “Cupid Deluxe” showcases a higher level of precision and expertise from Hynes, making it feel more substantial. Perhaps out of all of his previous musical phases, this is the one he feels the most comfortable with.

The excellent opening track “Chamakay” is a duet with Caroline Polachek of Chairlift. It bridges the gap between a subtly sexy, indie-funk sigh and a sweet pop lamentation of heartache. Complimenting the synthesizer echoes and soft drums is something that sounds like marimba (or “a giant kalimba,” as suggested by Rolling Stone). An unpredictable saxophone adorns the instrumental break, teasing the listener with its smoky, retro sound. The melange of Hynes’ and Polachek’s harmonies is feather-light, complimenting each other beautifully. “You’re Not Good Enough,” featuring Samantha Urbani of Friends, puts forth the catchiest chorus on the album. The track features a smooth nouveau ʼ80s production as an homage to an era of glistening pop songs, funky bass licks and groovy rhythms, bearing similarities to Hynes’ recent production work with Solange (“Losing You”) and Sky Ferreira (“Everything Is Embarrassing”). “No Right Thing,” a collaboration with Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors, is another standout track. Heavy on soulful vocals and stuttering guitar licks in the verses, the song propels itself forward in a lush arrangement in the chorus, demonstrating a skillful interplay between major and minor melodies.

In a video biography posted on his YouTube page, Hynes states that his primary position is to create music for others. Although he possesses impressive versatility, it is difficult to overlook the fact that he is strongest in collaboration with other artists on “Cupid Deluxe.” He is certainly successful with this album because he is able to evoke sounds of the past — traces of the soulful groove of Michael Jackson, the nervous energy of the Talking Heads and the colorful pop of Madonna — while still making them sound new and fresh. “Cupid Deluxe” can thus be regarded as a throwback that is both contemporary and forward-thinking. However, the solo tracks feel somewhat disjointed and lack the precision and refinement of his previous production work and collaborative efforts.

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