[Photo by Daniel Shea]
Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange has been somewhat m.i.a. as a solo artist since 2013s fantastic Cupid Deluxe
. Since 2013 we've seen Dev Hynes produce/write songs for FKA Twigs
, Jessie Ware
, and Carly Rae Jepsen
. While Hynes is a fantastic songwriter and producer, it's been a very long time since we've gotten a proper follow up. Let's be real since 2013 a lot has changed. The crying emoji is now officially a word, the world loves Justin Bieber again, and Michael Jordan is better known as a meme than he is for bringing six titles to the Chicago Bulls. Now, in light of all this change, can Blood Orange find relevance once again with Freetown Sound
Normally we do a track by track review of albums, but since Freetown Sound
has a whopping 17 tracks, we've decided to give you our views on the 12 crucial songs from the album.
Best Tracks on Freetown Sound:
"By Ourselves" has a clear gospel influence (with some jazz elements sprinkled throughout as well). It uses extended chords and slight dissonance as well as the tasteful usage of a small choir to achieve this effect. By Ourselves is a feminist based track that focuses celebrating Black women. This song samples a spoken word piece by Ashlee Haze which is still giving me chills. May the church say amen.
On "Chance" we start to hear some of the jazz elements heard prior in "By Ourselves" and the pairing of this sound with Hynes airy pads and bell synths makes for a beautifully relaxed arrangement. "Chance" is a song that focuses on Hynes' identity in a world where he feels that his culture is being appropriated, but he still has to make something out of himself. This is definitely a strong song that could go unnoticed as a social commentary because of its ethereal vibe.
BEST TO YOU
Shout outs to Blood Orange for the beautiful transition between "Chance" and "Best to You". For the kids that don't listen to albums anymore, I'm so sorry that you'll never get to experience these fine details that make an album great. Anyway, on "Best to You," Hynes give us his bread and butter with his '80s inspired sound. However, instead of just using four on the floor drums, Hynes throws in off-kilter drums that continuously keep the song moving. Yes the airy synths are there, yes the cheesy feel good bass line is there, but this is why we love Blood Orange. "Best to You" is surely single worthy.
From the moment "E.V.P." started I knew that I could rock with it. This jam has clearly been inspired by new jack swing and trust me, folks when I say this, new jack swing is everything. This song feels like the party isn't gonna end until 7 AM, but when you finally leave the venue you just continue the party in the street because you can't end a new jack swing party. Alright, folks you can officially kill me now. Ultimately "E.V.P." is beautiful because it uses sunny textures yet has moody lyrics that question the protagonist's course in life. Existential upbeat jams are truly my favorite kind of song.
"Love Ya" is a slightly unorthodox slow jam that finds Blood Orange asking a lover for their consent. See why I like this guy? Anyway, "Love Ya" has a somewhat free-form structure since the first verse doesn't enter until after a fantastic albeit short saxophone solo. This song is a perfect end of the night jam and makes me feel like I'm on a cloud in my bedroom. TMI? Too bad because "Love Ya" is another strong cut from Freetown Sound
On "But You" Blood Orange finally steps from behind his production and background vocalists to take the true lead on an album standout. I'll admit that the song's lyrics are somewhat cheesy as Hynes channels his inner MJ/Prince with the song's chorus being "you are special in your own way." "But You" keeps it minimal as it uses a mostly major four chord structure for the pads while piano, bass, and electric guitar further accentuate the laid-back sound. It also has congas in the background towards the end. 'Nuff said.
It seems at this point in the album Hynes is giving us more upbeat tracks and "Hands Up" keeps things interesting since its chorus is infectious as hell. Now it's not that Hynes can't create an intriguing chorus, (he did give us Everything Is Embarrassing and All That after all) but on "Hands Up" Hynes might have the most accessible song on Freetown Sound. On the production end, it doesn't break new ground since its always using a four chord structure for the pad and the drums are mostly four on the floor, but does every song really need to be groundbreaking? "Hands Up" is a fun track that just feels good and I love it. It's definitely a high point for the album. Plus it includes a tag at the very end of "hands up, don't shoot" which keeps it centered in the albums theme of the black identity.
Oh man, oh man. Who knew that Nelly Furtado still made music? Now I'm not trying to cut on Ms. Furtado but it's really been awhile. However, on "Hadron Collider" she makes up for all of that with Dev Hynes taking the backseat for Nelly Furtado to do what she does best and that's sing her ass off. "Hadron Collider" definitely has the potential be a sleeper hit since Hynes ditches a good amount of his '80s aesthetic to just create an excellent slow jam that would feel more at home in the '90s R&B Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey world. Kudos to you Blood Orange for truly making something special with "Hadron Collider".
BETTER THAN ME
Just when I thought Blood Orange was out of tricks he pulls out an awesome synth that sounds reminiscent of Princes "The Beautiful Ones". This is where Blood Orange thrives since he's able to reupholster old sounds and make them sound contemporary. "Better Than Me" is another strong cut as the album's final chapter begins to unfold.
Meh Tracks on Freetown Sound:
On Freetown Sounds second track we find Dev Hynes focusing on the permeation of Christianity throughout our lives as well as his own experience of moving to NYC. "Augustine" is the first track in which we hear Blood Oranges signature '80s inspired sound. For the newcomers listening to this album let me just say that Dev Hynes was on the '80s resurgence wave way before Pop music brought it back. Okay, now back to "Augustine". This track is somewhat of an oddball since the lyrics are so melancholy but the arrangement made me wanna hit my dab. While Augustine isn't sonically the most interesting song from Hynes, it definitely shows his progression as a songwriter over the years. Overall, I'm not completely sold on "Augustine".
"Desiree" follows a similar vibe to "But You," since Blood Orange flies solo on this one as well. We're once again introduced to Hynes' throwback '80s paradise with electric pianos that sound like Stevie Wonder would approve them. Ultimately "Desire" is more of the same and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's also not one of the strongest cuts on Freetown Sound
"Squash Squash" deals with a lover that has chosen someone else and while the lyrics aren't very good the production does deliver. There's just something about Hynes melody throughout the song that's dull. The conjunct nature of Blood Oranges chorus on "Squash Squash" is especially boring since it feels devoid of emotion. It's truly a shame that "Squash Squash" doesn't maximize its potential since the production is up to par with Hynes other arrangements on Freetown Sound
Ultimately, Freetown Sound
is a really good album. Dev Hynes was clearly meticulous with the creation of this project. With samples from old documentaries to a spoken word piece to "Stakes Is High" by De La Soul, this is clearly a love child that was born from a man with a vision. While it isn't perfect, every song and sound on Freetown Sound
has its rightful place. Freetown Sound
will surely be on year-end lists come this December. Congrats Blood Orange. You've once again made us fall in love with the eighties.
4/5 (Give us some more '90s inspired jams next time please!)