Being a somewhat under-appreciated British artist in the past, Blood Orange pioneer, Dev Hynes, has since uprooted and decided to embrace the Big Apple as his new home. ‘Cupid Deluxe’ is his second outing as Blood Orange since 2011.
Most famously known for his stint as Lightspeed Champion during the glory days of indie, Hynes has largely been hidden behind the scenes for the past few years. You may have spotted his name affiliated with producing the likes of Spector’s ‘Decade of Decay’ whilst co-writing songs with Solange Knowles and MKS (the original members of The Sugababes).
His previous album as Blood Orange, ‘Coastal Grooves’, transpired to be an edgy, R&B pop record which contrasted Hynes’ falsetto with rumbling basslines. Setting out to further capture the sound of an 80’s urban jungle with ‘Cupid Deluxe’, it’s immediately clear from the very first bars of ‘Chamakay’ that Hynes is already off to a strong start.
The slap bass of ‘You’re Not Good Enough’ and the muted Japanese scales gracing the guitar are immediately reminiscent of ‘Coastal Grooves’; however the female backing and subtle percussion bring this track to a whole new plateau. ‘Uncle Ace’ and ‘No Right Thing’ are an elaboration of the opening tracks, leaving the first four tracks to exist as a somewhat seamless, cohesive first act to ‘Cupid Deluxe’.
‘It Is What It Is’ shines midway through this record, just when things are beginning to sound a little predictable. Despite undoubtedly playing on the exact same genre conventions as any other ‘Blood Orange’ track, the arrangement is so much more gratifying in its execution. Instead of having every convention in play from the very beginning, ‘It Is What It Is’ gradually builds and subtracts them, behaving much in the same way many Lightspeed Champion tracks previously did.
‘Chosen’ abandons the subtle percussion in favour of a heavier R&B groove, shrouded in strings, sax and more gratifying funk-bass. Eclectic soon becomes a word that doesn’t even begin to cover ‘Cupid Deluxe’ as Hynes once again steps back from the mic, welcoming yet another guest vocalist to take the spotlight. As much as I dislike spoken word verses (with a fiery passion), ‘Chosen’ is the first track where I found a chorus that I could really sink my teeth into; it talked me around immediately.
‘Clipped On’ immediately drops a few hints that procure suspicions of the first potential rap track of the album. After confirming suspicions with a lyrical assault on the senses, the track once again fades away in trademark Blood Orange style. ‘Always Let U Down’ looks to further cement the ‘hip-hop’ label being awarded to this album.
‘High Street’ temporarily relocates the urban jungle from New York back to London for a grime intermission before ‘Time Will Tell’ sees ‘Cupid Deluxe’ to its end. The track sees Hynes briefly retake his singer-songwriter role, donning the piano and allowing his vocals to take centre stage.
Overall, ‘Cupid Deluxe’ is a complete graduation and expansion upon ‘Coastal Grooves’. The entire album is an expansive journey from start to finish with each track taking you on small genre detours along the way. Instead of taking the listener on eleven individual journeys across the course of the album, ‘Cupide Deluxe’ is closer to one fifty minute trip across New York; all rolled into a singular track. This becomes especially evident without much differentiation to even signal that the tracks have often changed. But perhaps that’s exactly the effect Hynes was after?
Hynes recorded these tracks onto mixtapes and listened to them whilst traveling around New York at night, letting the city’s nocturnal ecosystem seep into the music in his headphones. Therefore it’s no surprise that our serving suggestion for ‘Cupid Deluxe’ is that you do exactly the same in your local urban jungle. This album is clever, calculated, and most of all, an immersive experience; not just a set of eleven individual songs. And you’re not going to get the full effect in your bedroom now, are you? 8/10