It seems that Dev Hynes has truly found his niche. With Cupid Deluxe, a critically acclaimed album under the Blood Orange name, coming out in 2013 and a slew of production credits for the likes of Kylie Minogue and FKA Twigs surfacing in the years that followed, he’s been slowly working to spread his music even further than it’s already gone. His latest musical effort under the Blood Orange name, Freetown Sound, isn’t quite as smashing a success as his previous album, however.
Stylistically, Hynes hasn’t strayed far from his earlier influences. The album glides by with a combination of glacial, spacey R&B beats mixed with piano, saxophone and various other horn instruments, sometimes verging on jazzy but always rooted heavily in the world of pop music. The bouncy percussive up-tempo style of Best To You stands out as the strongest pop moment, with its smooth mix of male and female vocalists alongside a heavily melodic beat. A few tracks later, E.V.P ups the funk with its powerful bass line, covered by an array of reverb-heavy vocals and synths but empowered by the guitar riffs and guiding the song. Interludes such as With Him take the album into straight-up jazz territory, though never for long, and songs like Better Numb and Know provide the album with a few ballads to tie the package together.
There are a few specific songs on the album that leave a lasting, impactful impression on the listener. Best To You is the only instantly striking moment, though it finds itself packed with little references and call-backs that could be lost on a majority of listeners but hint at something deeper. Most notably, Desiree mixes its incredible beats with an unexpected sampling of a Venus Xtravaganza quote from the ballroom documentary Paris is Burning; initially surprising, but ties into the New York backbone of the album and fits into the political stances offered on the album quite nicely. Outside of these few tracks, however, the hazy concoction that the album presents itself as glides by without notice, setting itself up for you to either lose yourself in or completely gloss over.
In a straight comparison of the two, Freetown Sound doesn’t quite compare to the power of Cupid Deluxe, but doesn’t completely falter either. Its choice cuts show smart use of samples and infectious beats, almost at odds with its chill atmosphere but standing out because of it, and the political references are expertly handled. A greater majority of the album, however, lacks the punch or finesse required to carry itself where it’s attempting to go. While it’s far from the worst thing Dev Hynes could have created under the Blood Orange moniker, it’s also a step backwards from Cupid Deluxe overall.