The past and present are in constant conversation on Dev Hynes’s third album as Blood Orange. The listening experience, much like that of 2013’s Cupid Deluxe, is like setting out on an aimless stroll and letting bits and pieces of conversations and thoughts wash over you.
Audio samples of Venus Xtravaganza, De La Soul, Marlon Riggs and Ta-Nehisi Coates brush up against pop singers Debbie Harry, Kelsey Lu, Nelly Furtado and Carly Rae Jepsen. These impressionistic leaps between feelings and voices are pleasantly dis-locating. Hynes sometimes goes into his family history (Augustine) and at other times cedes the lead to female voices on love songs Better Than Me (Jepsen), Hadron Collider (most beautiful Nelly Furtado vocal ever?) and Best To You (Empress Of).
He dedicated Freetown Sound to “everyone told they’re not BLACK enough, too BLACK, too QUEER, not QUEER the right way, the underappreciated.” The political and personal subject matter keeps widening out into conversations about identity happening in culture right now, and about pop music itself. The conventional wisdom is that the sentiment should stay broad in catchy pop music to be universally appealing, yet Hynes’s exploration of the nuances of his Blackness and queerness is often direct and poppy. This tension is celebrated off the top in By Ourselves, which features a sample of poet Ashlee Haze exalting hip-hop weirdo Missy Elliott as a feminist hero.
The hallmarks of Blood Orange’s sound are all here – breathy male/female vocal interplay, rare groove rhythms, jazzy sax, gliding slap bass, honeyed falsetto melodies and flirty spoken word – but channelled into a reassuring, comfortable space that brings together pop’s supposed polarities of accessibility and specificity. Somewhere in there, Freetown Sound finds its own beautiful sweet spot.
Top track: Best To You
Don’t miss our 2014 cover story with Dev Hynes here.
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