Release Date: Aug 30, 2011
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Devonté Hynes' new concept album doesn't represent any sort of surprise, in particular. Frontman of electro punk scenesters Test Icicles, and conceiver of instrumentafolk solo project Lightspeed Champion, Dev knows how to adopt a sound and commit to it. At least for a year or two. This year it’s the turn of Hynes’ new solo pursuit, Blood Orange.
After releasing Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You as Lightspeed Champion in 2010, a throat operation forced Devonte Hynes to change his singing style to a falsetto. Now, as Blood Orange, not only does he have a smoother way with vocal lines, he backpedals from Bright Eyes emo and settles into a weird, poppy blend of chillwave, R&B, and '80s new wave. The new persona and synthesized backbeats seem to better coincide with his personality, and Coastal Grooves is the first outing where Hynes sounds completely at home with being unusual.
Many artists insist they can't be pigeonholed, but Dev Hynes walks the talk. The British performer and songwriter is a restless musical nomad who wanders between projects (Test Icicles, Lightspeed Champion), genres and cities with elusive regularity. This year he's Blood Orange, a genteel and relaxed pop performer with myriad effeminate influences - Hynes's childhood memories of being bullied, the drag ball queens of 80s New York, his songwriting sessions with Solange Knowles and Cassie - that are mostly apparent in the delicate tone and feminine persona in which he sings.
To his admirers, Dev Hynes – previously one-third of electro-punks Test Icicles and still a country crooner called Lightspeed Champion – is a restless talent; to his critics, he's a well-connected pastiche artist. But his latest project deserves to settle the argument in his favour. On paper, its influences – surf punk, Prince, oriental pop, minimalist dance – smack of hipster posturing, but on record, they blend beautifully: Hynes's falsetto thaws through the chilly synth lines of gorgeous closer "Champagne Coast", while "S'Cooled" combines funk with twitchy unease.
In recent times I seem to be putting Scritti Politti into Tiny Mix Tapes’ “Others” section with a fair amount of frequency, and this may suggest not only my music taste as manifest in review choices, but also the current trend toward 80s influences in terms of creamy falsetto, synth of both the pop and funk variety, and of course our old and influential friend post-punk. In the music of Devonté Hynes, however, we see not only a sonic resemblance but also a trajectory that has something in common with Green Gartside, in the move from the abrasive, thrashy post-punk of the unfortunately named Test Icicles, to the smooth-surfaced but interesting pop of Blood Orange (via the indie pop/rock of Lightspeed Champion). It’s smooth style that Coastal Grooves provides in spades — but there is also a musical diversity here that is underpinned by the scratchy guitars, synth, and funky basslines of the place where post-punk meets Prince-era synth funk.
Of all the imagined New York Cities past, present and future, it’s the one of the early ’80s that lingers longest in the mind’s eye. Just imagine!Outrageous drag balls, bumpin’ block parties and no-wave freakshows over a backdrop of crumbling tenement blocks and copious neon. This is city living at its most vital, the creative impulse rubbing up suggestively against sidewalks streaked with filth, and leather-clad hoodlums lurking at every turn.It’s precisely this NYC that Essex boy [b]Devonté Hynes[/b] went off in search of when he moved out to the Big Apple in 2008.
Once Shoreditch's answer to Zelig, popping up in the background of every micro-trend, Dev Hynes has relocated to the States. His music has changed, too, the delicate folk of Lightspeed Champion shed in favour of the sound of the 80's British invasion: Flock of Seagulls, China Crisis, Duran Duran et al. This isn't quite as naff as it appears, though.
As a member of short-lived dance punks Test Icicles, Dev Hynes abused eardrums and EQ levels with glee. Since that group's demise, he's flashed surprising proclivities towards lush, orchestral-tinged folk-pop in the vein of Okkervil River with his solo project Lightspeed Champion. There have been growing pains at every step along the way, but they were always the result of Hynes admirably trying to do too much, trying to pour too many words and ideas and emotions into his compositions.
Dev Hynes is certainly no stranger to the music scene. Now under a different moniker, Blood Orange, the ex-Test Icicles member is taking his music in an entirely different direction. His solo outing as Lightspeed Champion left inactive, Blood Orange is the darker side of Hynes, exploring experimental synths and grim guitars. New release Coastal Grooves is seductive, taking its influence from the after-hours environment of New York City in the ’80s.
Dev Hynes’ latest guise is better at being Metronomy than Metronomy are. Chris Roberts 2011 Scenester, shape-shifter: is Dev Hynes – now appearing as Blood Orange – a Zelig-like chancer or a gifted chameleon? If the jury remained divided over his output with art-noisers Test Icicles then his twitchy country-rock as Lightspeed Champion, it should leap up and whoop now. Coastal Grooves is fabulous.
There’s power in repetition, even if that power comes from continuous expectation. Such is the case of Blood Orange’s debut solo album, Coastal Grooves, which builds on singular melodies throughout its ten tracks, never really building up to anything. That’s not a negative, per se; it’s more a statement regarding Dev Hynes’ titular grooves, and how he can use them to tell his stories.