Review Summary: Punch it.Cupid Deluxe
, Devonté Hynes’ second offering under the Blood Orange moniker, finds the British singer-songwriter on the cusp of twenty-eight and at the point where most find themselves being forced to choose between committing their lives one way or another. Having recently relocated from Brooklyn to Manhattan, the indie pop auteur can strongly relate to that overarching sense of uncertainty as well. “A lot of [Cupid Deluxe
] is about that: transitions – life transitions,” he explained in an interview with NME earlier this year. “Moving from a stable position to an unstable position – something we’ve all been through.”
To that end, it’s easy to view Cupid Deluxe
as a direct response to growing pains, but to do so would be to do it a disservice, for the album is also the narrative of a young mind attempting to comprehend the vagaries of human interaction. Hynes knows that if you’ve been around the block for long enough, the concept of finding a good, lasting relationship can start to seem like a myth – a script made purely for television audiences. Cupid Deluxe
’s eleven tracks are built around the aim of tearing that legend down: amidst smoky grooves and gripping saxophone solos, Hynes ruminates at length about losing yet another person who could have been the one – “Are you the one who breaks my heart out of my chest?” he wonders aloud on album highlight “Chamakay”. Even the record’s title and its cover are indicative: a faceless person stares out at us from behind a mask of kitschy make-up and a shock of (fake?) golden hair – a modern manifestation of the Greek God of Love. The resulting effigy is disturbing enough to just about distract us from the image’s true centerpiece: the wisp of pubic hair cheerfully peeking out from under a corner of that pale blue underwear. Now, is there anyone out there who could love this
Sonically, Cupid Deluxe
shows a more expansive palate than 2011’s Coastal Grooves
, but still retains the pop sensibilities that Hynes has showcased since his days as Lightspeed Champion. Synthesizer patterns come and go like they are being shunted through a revolving door, while deft changes in the songs’ chord progression work to keep interest levels high. But while Hynes used to rely heavily on his hooks to keep his narrative flowing, he’s now more focused on creating a singular atmosphere that permeates throughout the entirety of the record and persists from start to finish. In addition, the album also features a great many guest appearances, including performances from David Longstreth (Dirty Projectors), Caroline Polachek (Chairlift), Samantha Urbani (Friends), Clams Casino, Despot, and Adam Bainbridge, just to name a few. But while there’s always a danger of oversaturation with so many cooks tending the broth, Hynes’ vocal presence is itself a singular, evocative combination of soul, R&B, and funk that manages to bind everything together under a central thesis, resulting in an album that both ebbs and flows like a well-paced novel.
Things get underway with the stormy, never-ending heartbreak of “Chamakay”, which sees Hynes and Chairlift’s Polachek serving up the kind of climactic call-and-response vocal that lingers in the back of one’s mind for days. Then comes the scintillating “You’re Not Good Enough”, which opens with a funk-influenced sample that I can only assume was meant to be used on the dancefloor, but has since been converted to some sort of pity anthem. “I never was in love/You know that you were never good enough,” sighs Hynes from deep down in the mix, and you can’t help but feel sorrier for him than you are for the person that he has just spurned. The rotating skitter-hop of “Uncle ACE” is next, and as one of the few numbers to not feature any guest appearances, it relies heavily on Hynes’ choice of texture in order to see it through. Thankfully though, the song’s twinkling guitar play and closing chord sequence quickly reveal themselves to be one of Cupid Deluxe
’s most progressive moments, and any irregularities present are quickly balanced out with a series of methodical, spacious, and textured arrangements that recall the sultry magnificence of Submotion Orchestra’s Finest Hour
. The tense mid-album appearance of “Always Let U Down” in turn deviously appropriates one of texting’s most casually-used abbreviations to disguise an examination of the sense of helplessness that comes with being unable to deal with the expectations of others. Finally, album closer “Time Will Tell” yields one of Cupid Deluxe
’s most experimental moments: the song itself was recorded live in a single 15-minute take, with Hynes casually ad-libbing the vocals based on an earlier number by Adam Bainbridge. The track is by no means one of Hynes’ more exquisite moments, but it acts as the perfect comedown after forty-five minutes of riotous highs and restless lows.
is not an imperfect record, but it is still a powerful reminder of how grossly underrated Dev Hynes is as an artist in his own right. His ability to conjure up an album as assured as this, seemingly out of nowhere, makes it seem criminal that the bulk of his work is typically done in collaboration with other like-minded, but not similar, artists. It remains to be seen where Hynes will go from here, but it’s tempting to hope that we’ll be talking about him again sooner rather than later.