Thumbing through the glossy, pinkish photography that accompanies Blood Orange
's latest disc Cupid Deluxe
, the cast of characters gazing back at me easily slide into a certain young, urban dwelling demographic...the one usually associated with North Brooklyn, the one who's colorful costumery and retro fashion caricatures usually lead me to shake my head. It's because I'm square, I've aged out. I really like my checked shirts. I really like The National. Some of the credits on Cupid Deluxe
are even more odious: Dirty Projector's creepy, culty leader Dave Longstreth and Chairlift's insufferable diva Caroline Polacheck leading the charge. Alpha-hipsters, Brooklyn misfits, those who best personify the dress up parade that cat walks down Bedford Avenue every day had a big hand in this thing. This is probably going to hurt, I think. This is the last thing I want to listen to. Until I press play...
truth about this one is that Cupid Deluxe
is the culmination of a singular, artistic vision...a sharp commitment to sound and aesthetic I can only guess has been weighing on its creator, Dev Hynes, since he was the smallest of sports, staring at the images of MTV's golden era, letting his imagination sweep him away. The album starts with the slinky first notes of "Chamakay", an oily R&B opener accessorized in sparse beats, feathery synthetics, and vocals from Hynes and Polacheck that cast a feeling of absolute hypnosis. The sweet, supple soul and dream catching vocal melodies of "It Is What It Is" strike a similar chord. It's intoxicating pop, mined from specks of what I imagine Dev's adolescent years must have sounded like.
Other elements also come in to play over the course of the album. "Clipped On" has a throwback, uptown swing to it, featuring lyrical contributions from Queens hip hop artist, Despot. "High Street" skips that feeling across the pond, handing the mic to accent laced, British hip hop artist Skepta. Then there are bits of head nodding new wave washing over the trip that is "Uncle Ace". Dictating "I'm everything you need / Put all you need in me," Dev escorts the deliciously funky track to dramatic heights, courtesy of an unexpected key change and a spooky swirl of woodwinds. "Chosen" does something similar...queue twangy bass, woozy saxophone, and synth splotches like splatter paint hitting the canvas. Instead of Dev speaking, it's a girl with a French accent this time, all sex and longing ("It was the last weekend of September / I stayed up all night long / Waiting for the fire ache in my heart to subside/It never happened").
As most know, such a late 80s, early 90s loving pastiche of sound is only the most recent incarnation of a musical chameleon we've seen switch his shade more than a few times over the better part of the last decade. There was the short-lived, angular dance punk he experimented with in his band Test Icicles. Then the American blood pumping through this adopted Englishman got the best of him. He would later reinvent himself as Lightspeed Champion; a cartoonish character with big wig hair and giant glasses, channeling the kind of middle American folk rock that was coming out of the Mike Mogis/Bright Eyes camp in Omaha, Nebraska a couple years later. It was good, it was meaningful, and he enjoyed plenty of success with it. Still, Dev's restlessness won again, changing his persona with the Blood Orange project. Historically speaking, this is an artist who always seems on the cusp of blowing everything up. In a recent interview with NPR's Melissa Block, Dev explains, "I see no reason to not just try everything. I feel like we all have such varied tastes and to not try our tastes is a crime."
Which means this latest flavor might continue to evolve. If it does, know this: Cupid Deluxe
is Dev Hynes' biggest mark to date; a sound unto itself that'll be instantly recognized as Blood Orange from this day forward. God damn my razor thin, elitist shell. The youth of this city might scare me a bit, but Cupid Deluxe
is no dress-up game. It's a sincere homage with a wealth of personality, painted in sultry strokes of bright pink, purple, and above all, Blood Orange. It's something you need to hear.