Blood Orange By Stacey Mark

Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe, out this week via Domino, is the culminating triumph of a long, strange decade for Devonté Hynes. Before finding his groove as a voguing, Prince-channeling soft-focus retro R&B mastermind, Hynes bounced from Houston to London to NYC, donning a number of guises along the way: teenage dance-punk, oddball folk-pop singer-songwriter, misty post-chillwave super-producer, author/illustrator/photographer, covers artist extraordinaire. He’s one of his generation’s slipperiest creative forces, but he dedicates himself completely to whichever persona he’s adopting at the moment, in full command of his chosen aesthetic. To borrow a phrase once preached to another guy prone to self-reinvention, there are no half-measures in Hynes’ world.

That makes his career arc utterly fascinating. To observe the full scope of Hynes’ musical output is to stare at a mosaic in sharply contrasting tones; it’s hard to believe the pieces all came from the same place. But in another way, his progression makes sense. It’s the work of a young talent fumbling about, experimenting, trying his hand at all kinds of sounds and feels until he strikes gold. With Cupid Deluxe, he’s hit the motherlode. Let’s track how he got there.

Test Icicles – “All You Need Is Blood” (2005)

After moving from Houston to Edinburgh to London while growing up, in 2004 an 18-year-old Hynes joined Rory Atwell and Sam Mehran to form Test Icicles, a band with a joke name and a gimmick genre. “All You Need Is Blood,” included on the band’s first 7-inch and its only full-length, 2005′s For Screening Purposes Only, is one of Hynes’ first writing credits. Like most music by teenagers, it was deeply influenced by the trends of the time, which in this case meant the dance-punk movement that had spread from the U.S. to the U.K. Upon the band’s breakup in 2006, Hynes told the NME, “We were never, ever that keen on the music. I understand that people liked it, but we personally, er, didn’t.” That explains why most of the trio’s output was competent but not inspired, and why Hynes was about to morph into an entirely different sort of performer.

Lightspeed Champion – “Galaxy Of The Lost” (2007)

After Test Icicles melted away with the last gasps of the dance-punk craze, Hynes reemerged as a solo artist playing a brand of singer-songwriter pop that was a far cry from his old band’s angular clatter. Reborn as Lightspeed Champion, he wore preppy sweaters and ties, blew his hair out into an unimaginable poof and hung out with puppets and cats in music videos. More importantly, he teamed up with Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis for 2008′s Falling Off The Lavender Bridge, an album that crossbred late-period Oberstian folk-rock with chamber pop. The lead single was 2007′s “Galaxy Of The Lost,” the aforementioned puppets and cats video, which matched the highs of Badly Drawn Boy’s hi-fi period and showed Hynes was capable of constructing a massive chorus. He was zeroing in on his pop pedigree, but the version of Hynes presented here is still a far cry from what he would become down the line.

Lightspeed Champion – “Marlene” (2010)

By the time of his second Lightspeed Champion LP, 2010′s Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You, Hynes was starting to resemble the artist we’ve come to know as Blood Orange in terms of sight and sound. The cartoonish prep fashion gave way to stylish minimalism, Monster Of Folk Mike Mogis was replaced as producer by sleek indie-rock maestro Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Deerhunter), and bass-popping ’80s pop-R&B production was starting to creep into his music. But lead single “Marlene” shows the transformation was far from complete. The soaring chorus was still very much in the mode of Lightspeed Champion’s signature mid-aughts folk-pop, the rhythm section was as much a callback to the Test Icicles sound as the foggy-lens dance music Hynes would one day embrace, and even though Hynes was starting to look like one suave motherfucker, the nerd glasses were still in play.

Blood Orange – “Dinner” (2011)

In 2011, with a non-album single on Grizzly Bear bassist Chris Taylor’s Terrible Records, Hynes unveiled his latest guise. Blood Orange was distinct from anything he’d previously released; pegged as his new electronic project, this was actually more like a pitch-perfect pastiche of New Wave, R&B, and early hip-hop that instantly rendered Hynes as Prince for the chillwave generation. This was an incredibly timely change-up, but it also seemed to flow naturally from Hynes in a way none of his previous personas had.

Blood Orange – “Sutphin Boulevard” (2011)

Blood Orange’s debut album, 2011′s Coastal Grooves, further fleshed out the project’s world, revealing inspiration from 1980s vogue ball culture. In particular, the video for bass-thumping, reverb-inflected lead single “Sutphin Boulevard” drove this home by surrounding Hynes with androgynous characters donning glamorous wardrobes plucked from dressing rooms and mannequins. It also introduced Hynes as a frontman to be reckoned with, a showman capable of rocking the mic with seductive swagger.

Sky Ferreira – “Everything Is Embarrassing” (2012)

Hynes teamed up with Ariel Rechtshaid to produce “Everything Is Embarrassing” for Sky Ferreira’s Ghost EP. The steady-rocking programmed beat, lush keyboard smears and funk bass were a perfect fit for Ferreira after a half-decade of false starts, launching her indie-darling era and putting Hynes on the radar as an in-demand producer.

Solange – “Losing You” (2012)

If co-producing “Everything Is Embarrassing” made Hynes a hot commodity, collaborating with Solange’s True EP made him an underground sensation. From lead single “Losing You” on down, the EP was a fully realized world of sound, the perfect fit for Solange after years of unfulfilled promise. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Hynes managed to jump start three separate careers with his Blood Orange transformation: His own, Ferreira’s and Solange’s. His creative chemistry with Solange is especially infectious; watching them perform together at SXSW was among the year’s most joyful endorphin rushes.

Blood Orange – “Chamakay” (2013)

Blood Orange’s sophomore LP Cupid Deluxe an album of bold, confident gestures. Sonically, it’s fuller and flashier than Coastal Grooves, bolstered by contributions from music royalty ranging from Dirty Projectors mastermind Dave Longstreth to cloud rap super-producer Clams Casino. Even as he expertly triangulates the Blood Orange sound, Hynes continues to reveal new dimensions. He’s still discovering them himself; in the “Chamakay” video, he takes us along as he visits Georgetown, Guyana, his mother’s hometown, and meets his grandfather for the first time. It’s a powerful clip, and it suggests that even with Hynes in full bloom, there’s more evolution in store.

Comments (26)
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    • Go ahead and downvote me all you want, but the best thing about the new Sky Ferreira album is that Blood Orange’s production credits are nowhere to be found on it. “Everything Is Embarrassing” was great last year, but a year later, I realize now that you can take any female vocalist (Sky, Solange, Caroline Polachek, Samantha Urbani) and get the same results. So as a producer helping other artists, he does nothing to help give them their own identity.

      And I agree with HartfordTheWhale’s sentiments: Cupid Deluxe lacks a cohesiveness and he’s a trend follower rather than a setter. His current sound already is beginning to sound like a cliche and tired the more he uses it on different female vocalists (really, it’s the female vocals that carry his songs anyway.) I’m guessing he’ll start a new band or take on a new name in a year or two once he realizes that.

  2. He’s a bit of a trend opportunist but I’ll admit that I was really into that first Lightspeed Champion album (though I’d probably find it unlistenable today).

  3. For some reason I was REALLY into Test Icicles for a few months in college. But yeah, Dev seems to just capitalize on whatever trend in music is popular at the time. Which isn’t to say his music is bad. The first Blood Orange album was really enjoyable (and a total Twin Shadow rip-off, which is in turn a total lots of things rip-off), though I find the lack of focus in the new album distracting.

    • yeah, along with some other comments, you might be onto something here. See, as you said, his music isn’t bad, and if you’re some R’n'b addict you might have a lot to explore in the blood orange project, but the things is, even with this project of his, everything he does seems incredibly calculated and at least to me, incredibly unsincere, and quite honestly, his limitations are starting to show off. Take the Twin Shadow guy, man, that guy put up a record and it seem pretty effortless. Obvs they’re not the same person but you get the drift. I mean, i like it when an artist can just let go,

  4. No mention of his work with Theophilus London? I’ve always been pretty fond of Flying Overseas.

  5. Hey, thanks for this. I stopped following him after a particularly bad Lightspeed Champion EP (2007′s “Stay The Fuck Away From Me”) but it definitely sounds like the last 6 years are better than the first.

  6. I think he sets trends…I don’t think he follows them…

  7. I think he makes music. If you wanna make music, then do it, otherwise shut the fuck up.

  8. this man is on some iconic shit , hes definitely doing his own thing but hes really the next pharrell/prince(super producer) of our generation. did anyone listen to im sorry we lied, like can u not hear the intent in the lyrics and all his visuals are timeless pieces of art. not to stan out but this man needs to be working amongst the elite hes a legend already

  9. Im loving all these comments from wannabe music critics who, rather than compliment the work of an amazing, lesser known artist, would rather nitpick and try to downplay the success of said artist. Cupid Deluxe is my favorite work by Dev Hynes by far. Its collaborative, innovative, and the perfect follow up to Coastal Grooves. I’ve loved Blood Orange since the DJ exotica sage mixtape, and lightspeed champion will go down as one of my favorite bands of all time, so I am quite biased when it comes to Dev Hynes, but Cupid Deluxe is undeniably good, if you dont think so why dont you go listen to some Justin Beiber or something.

    • It’s always difficult to take someone who calls me a “wannabe music critic” seriously when I look at their profile and it shows that this is their first time in the comments. All that basically tells me is that you threw a hissy fit because someone said something about your favorite artist and you had to run in here and tell mommy all about the mean, mean music critics who don’t like what you like. “Go listen to Justin Beiber or something?” Kid, I’m pretty sure most of us here listen to music way beyond your simpleton level considering you find some failed dance-punk-indie-folk-second rate Washed Out / Twin Shadow hybrid to be the bees knees of music, in 2013 albeit.

      • Its hard for me to take someone seriously whose only validation in life is arguing with someone through comments on the internet LOL how sad your life must be. Enjoy your false sense of musical superiorty, because im sure that its all you’ve got LOL. BLOOD ORANGE FTW!!

        • How big? I’m guessing 9.5 – 10″? Maybe as thick as a coke can by the way you talk and take things so seriously on here?

          • “Yo, while I bet you have a massive cock, impressive, nearly unwieldy, one might say, in both it’s length and girth!”

            That’s a really weird comeback.

            Generally, if you want to insult a guy, you imply that he has a *smaller-than-average* penis, from which it follows that his aggressive posturing is some form of compensation.

            See also: Ian Cohen discussion, for an earlier instances of michael_ “insulting” someone by speculating about his superhuman endowment.

          • That is another possible comeback, but I can explain my tactic, because it seems you need clarification for it: On the Internet, it is a running joke that people who talk about their endowment size on the Internet also lie about the size of their junk to impress others and give the impression that they’re the “biggest” because they think everyone will admire and envies him. What I’m trying to say is that the person above is speaking in a very arrogant matter-of-fact way, that what he says is the end-all to the argument — that he has the “biggest dick” in this comment section.

            Your speculation on his endowment is probably more likely, though.

    • Come on, man. Just because we’re being critical of a musician you happen to *really* like doesn’t make us “wannabe music critics” or mean that we want to “go listen to some Justin Beiber or something.” Not everyone has to agree with you. Just because you think Dev is “amazing” and Cupid Deluxe is your “favorite” doesn’t mean we all feel that way (especially since you yourself admitted to being biased, and Lightspeed Champion – an effort I was never really into, personally – will “go down as one of your favorite bands of all time”).

      People tend to disagree about lots of things, and especially art/culture, and if you can’t handle that then you’re going to have a lonely life. Grow up.

  10. the Paris is Burning-drag ball throwback in “sutphin blvd” is elegant nostalgia at its most poignant. And if “Chamakay” plus “not good enough” are any indication, the new album should be spectacular.

  11. Funny how people who say they hate a certain band or artist will still take time out of there boring, meaningless day, to post hate rants on the internet. Hilarious how some people are so jealous of others success. Stay a nobody michael_ :D its suites you.

  12. Never heard anything he’s worked on since Test Icicles. They had a few rad songs.

  13. listening to devs new album has been a really inspiring, positive, and downright introspective experience for me. i can’t say many records do that nowadays. not that i agree with it being called “trendy” or “redundant” but even if it is– this does not somehow invalidate the mood, dynamism or song writing.

    i encourage people to check it out, and get laid while listening to it for sure.

  14. Dev Hynes’s music is incredibly refreshing and I love this article for showing his musical evolution. Blood Orange is hands down one of my favorite bands and I’m so stoked he has taken his craft to another level. As far as haters go, it’s just proof that he’s doing something right :) Props to somebody who deserves it!

  15. I know who he is from the Sky Ferreira and Solange singles, which were both absolutely fantastic, but none of his own stuff has really grabbed me yet. I’m still looking through it though, and this article helps a lot.

    That being said, Test Icicles was such a steaming pile of shit in every single way.

  16. Boy, this comment thread is pretty rough.

  17. Hynes is clearly a talented guy and yeah, he’s written a couple tunes that worked for other artists but his music really doesn’t do much for me. “Most” of his songs are kind of boring and unmemorable. Image and posing aside, it often seems like he’s trying too hard. Still, the BO material is a lot stronger than his LSC project.

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