Blood Orange oozes intensity and vulnerability in a bold compilation that will leave you struggling to remove the weighty glue of human heartache.
London-born solo pop alchemist Dev Hynes has once again hypnotised our ears under the pseudonym Blood Orange. Freetown Sound marks the artist’s 3rd feature album, presenting testaments to black culture, personal displacement, and heartache in homage to Hynes’ paddling through his own anxieties.
The album title pays tribute to Freetown, Sierra Leone, the country’s capital and hometown to Hynes’ father. Vocal clips and unconventional spoken-word poetry are inserted into the songs crafting a multilayered narrative of black culture. Hynes dedicated the album to “the under-appreciated” in a constantly decaying society where social attitudes are absent from compassion:
“My album is for everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way … it’s a clapback”
The lyricism in the album often translates more as a voiceover rather than being embedded within a song, which emphasises the highly reflective and philosophical vocals in which Hynes attempts to make sense of himself, his race and sexuality, while criticising what the world has become.
‘Hands Up’ is one of the many political statements made on the album, referring to the 2012 shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida who was wrongfully shot by a neighbourhood watch volunteer. Hynes warns against the dangers of being a black person in the presence of law enforcement “Keep your hood off when you’re walking…Sure enough, they’re gonna take your body.”
The Blood Orange sound arguably presents an exciting new genre for the future of music to explore. Fundamentally electronic, there are also additions of piano, saxophone and electric guitar as complementing elements to the muffled, sticky synth-soul that transcends throughout his aesthetic, all in all amounting to a very textural and tangible outcome.
Profoundly raw, Hynes manages to replicate the tangible beating of the human heart through muffled synths that echo straight through your nervous system. We haven’t seen anything this unsettlingly mellow and synthetic since the soundtrack for Drive.
There is evidence of 80’s pop and hip-hop influences, fused with more mellow undertones that perturb a heavier, sensual quality. Making parallels with contemporary artists would fall somewhere between Frank Ocean and Bloc Party. However Hynes manages to creatively pull from these genres and musicians whilst fashioning an audio aesthetic that is completely unique and infectious.
A wide number of composers and other creatives feature on the album, particularly women in which Hynes preaches absolute respect:
“I guess I just view women higher…I don’t know what it is. I think women are so powerful. Not just in the fact that I genuinely prefer female voices—that is a big part of it—but there’s also a particular power that women can put across that men just can’t.”
I like the direction Hynes is going here. ‘E.V.P.’ features Blondie front woman Debbie Harry in an elastically funky instrumental reminiscent of the band’s similar 80s presence.
Nelly Furtado is also one of the better-known female collaborators, appearing in the mercurial ballad ‘Hadron Collider’. This is Furtado at her best, absent from her tarnished mainstream persona and stripped back to her pain evoking voice of exceptional talent. Lyrics “You’re the face, behind the face that keeps me dreaming. You’re a face inside a cage, that keeps repeating” contrasted with “A thousand halos in the sky, but we’re too far from heaven” alludes to themes of lost hope and displacement between reality and virtual reality.
It is no question that Blood Orange has crafted something truly profound in uniqueness and political messages. A 17-track epic, Freetown Sound encourages reflection from its listeners and an almost sensual physical response to the thick electronic synths that stick like languid honey. His predictions of the future aren’t completely dire; there is hope in the presence of human union and creativity.