Blood Orange - Negro Swan

100

The Guardian

(Domino)

British-born musician Devonté Hynes has quietly been an industry staple for more than 10 years, but it’s his work as New York-based Blood Orange that has felt his most vital. His last album under the moniker was 2016’s exquisite Freetown Sound, which found him considering representation and the experiences of his immigrant parents. Negro Swan is his fourth full-length work, and looks yet more inward, addressing his past struggles as a young black man in the UK, while giving voice to the universal insecurities of the marginalised.

Beautifully languid vocals and smatterings of spoken word and rap overlay breathtaking instrumentation; propulsive drums, gentle guitars, lounge-y synths, flutes, sax and a shiver-inducing bass (notably on Dagenham Dream) make for rich grooves. Hynes fuses R&B, funk, soul and jazz with warm, glossy electronics to create something distinctly nourishing, while writer Janet Mock and on Hope – gloriously – Puff Daddy both speak openly about self-love, vulnerability and family.

Related: Dev Hynes: ‘Puff Daddy somehow got my number… it was pretty strange’

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Sun Aug 26 09:00:09 CEST 2018

80

Drowned In Sound

In 2016 Devonté Hynes, the musical polymath behind Blood Orange, made what felt like a definitive statement with his masterpiece Freetown Sound, a warped, funky, and soulfully metatextual analysis of black identity in America. Not only was it glorious, intelligent and beautifully performed it was also thorough, pulling together cross-cultural threads, documentary snippets and a school-bus full of guest performances and lacing them with the same stylish, occasionally jittery R&B hip hop he applied as a producer to Solange’s True. It was a cool and compelling accomplishment, but did beg the question: where would Hynes go from there?

Negro Swan by Blood Orange

The answer is both further out, and further in. Negro Swan, his fourth album as Blood Orange and sixth as a solo performer, sees Hynes turn his attention to the very personal. He’s said the album is about ‘black depression, black anxieties and the ongoing anxieties of people of colour’, and while that has implications on a macro scale, the prism through which we approach those issues is the experience of the black, queer, anxious Dev Hynes. While Freetown Sound felt very American and specifically very NYC in its approach, Negro Swan has Hynes dredging up his past as a bullied Essex school boy, the young black outsider who played in the orchestra and metal bands, before finding his identity through nu-rave, nu-folk and New York. Throughout the album Hynes returns again and again to the theme of being ‘other’, from opener ‘Orlando’ which paints a picture of a lonely world ”after school… down and out” where the “first kiss was the floor” to ‘Dagenham Dream’, with its emphasis on isolation and shame, all “broken skin and bloody nose”. On ‘Jewelry’ Hynes front-and-centres his English accent, sounding alien over skittish beats as he sing-talks about being “suited to stay home indoors like a good nigga”, worrying that “no-one will ever appreciate the way you bare your soul to them”, all imposter syndrome and awkwardness. He concludes with a retreat, “Go back to being unknown, relax your hair, tuck your shirt in, put your glasses on, play your guitar”.. Anyone who's ever been made to feel like a an outsider will relate - somewhere inside the superstar producer is the awkward, bullied kid from Dagenham, just as somewhere inside the rock writer is the Leicestershire nerd mocked for ‘talking about Nirvana and Star Trek’ too much. Or maybe you just take away what you put in.

The introversion and the melancholia is only half the story though. There’s a reason Hynes releases ‘solo’ music under collective names like Blood Orange and Lightspeed Champion: He’s a serial collaborator, and an expert in filtering his ideas through someone else and using their energy to make his point. On Negro Swan it manifests in the fierce and erudite voice of trans-activist Janet Mock, credited here as a ‘narrator’. Through a series of interview snippets Mock contrasts the introversion and awkwardness of Hynes’ lyrics with the need to “show all the way up” in spaces you’re not supposed to belong, to not allow to people to tell you you’re “too extra” or “do too much”, to “fully show up as you are without judgement, ridicule, fear or containment”. Iain Isiah finds hope in spirituality as he splashes his beautiful falsetto across ‘Holy Will’, while Georgia Anne Muldrow reminds us on ‘Runnin’, that the clouds will eventually clear, that this too shall pass. “Hold on”, she sings, “you’re gonna be okay, everybody goes through it”.

Hynes plays his collaborators like instruments, allowing their natural tone to enhance his vision. It says everything that he takes his two biggest hitters and sets them against type: Puff Daddy, a man who dick-swung through 25 years of hip hop history is downbeat and reflective, asking between all his “uh!”s and “Yer!”s “what’s it going to take for me to not be afraid?”,while A$AP Rocky (who is hard to take seriously ever since Liam Gallagher dubbed him ‘WhatsApp Ricky’ on Twitter) deals with sexual inadequacy and the women he couldn’t handle. Toxic masculinity will always undermine the biggest of egos.

All of this is reflected in tunes that warp and slide uncomfortably, guitars that never seem to stay quite in tune, beats and hooks that dissolve before they resolve, Dev Hynes’ vocal always naked and vulnerable, with no effort made to hide his insecurities with his own ability. Every note and sonic decision coded into the message: It’s hard to be alone, it’s hard to do your own thing, but it can also be very beautiful and ultimately empowering. It’s telling that the album closes on a note of hope: “The sun comes in,” sings Hynes, “my heart fulfills within”..

![105803](http://dis.resized.images.s3.amazonaws.com/540x310/105803.jpeg)

Thu Sep 06 16:46:38 CEST 2018

76

Pitchfork

Dev Hynes’ fourth album as Blood Orange focuses on black depression, sketching his anxious alt-pop, progressive R&B, indie hip-hop, downtempo rock, and spacey chillwave into a minimalist emulsion.

Fri Aug 24 07:00:00 CEST 2018

60

The Guardian

(Domino)

While Blood Orange is ostensibly a solo moniker for pop polymath Dev Hynes – his second after Lightspeed Champion’s mopey indie-pop – it has always represented more of a collective. Like 2016’s excellent Freetown Sound – a 17-track fusion of the personal and political, assisted by Carly Rae Jepsen and Debbie Harry – the sprawling Negro Swan, his fourth as Blood Orange, carries the loose-fitting feel of a mixtape. Throughout, guest vocalists bubble to the surface, occasionally interspersed with snatches of found sounds, or the ominous swirl of a police siren. Its mercurial nature is both a blessing and a curse.

Like other recent albums keen to shed light on the black experience (Hynes has said Negro Swan is about “black depression … and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of colour”), it’s anchored by a narrator in the shape of Pose producer and transgender rights activist Janet Mock. Unlike, say, Lemonade or A Seat at the Table, however, Mock’s interludes often reiterate themes communicated far better in the songs themselves, most obviously on album highlight Charcoal Baby, which, in one line (“No one wants to be the odd one out”), makes Mock’s foreshadowing interlude Family feel redundant.

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Fri Aug 24 10:00:10 CEST 2018

60

Tiny Mix Tapes

Blood Orange
Negro Swan

[Domino; 2018]

Rating: 3/5

Ever since abandoning the tranquil, indie pop tendencies of Coastal Grooves and Cupid Deluxe, Devonte Hynes has become unafraid of taking risks. The nocturnal expanses of Freetown Sound were (and still are) a full-bodied testament to that fact. While Blood Orange may have originated within the confines of bedroom music, the calling of shared histories and experiences, drawing from Hynes’s diasporic beginnings, have come into focus.

Negro Swan is Hynes’s most ambitious undertaking to date. While the blinds are still partially drawn and things feel characteristically brooding, a typical Blood Orange track is no longer sullied by insular drum machine patterns and oceanic reverb: voices are fully present, percussion sits resolutely front-and-center in the mix, and every bass line maintains a warm embrace. The album battles the myriad complexities of black depression, queer existence, and finding safety in a world that was never tailored for you.

You can touch blackness as the Negro Swan. The tactile manifestations of a marginalized person’s life — hair, skin, clothes — become the canvas of Blood Orange’s choosing; “Your skin’s a flag that shines for us all” the emphatic battle cry of a life’s radiance undermined. Tactility is of paramount importance. A crisper take on production results in songs feeling physically closer than they ever have; although a wealth of rewarding grooves exist, it’s the stark, minimal tracks that showcase a side we haven’t experienced before.

There’s close attention to each potent hook, and it shows. “First kiss was the floor” is undergirded by a sway so infectious that it’s easy to overlook the refrain’s devastating personal truth. “Charcoal Baby” features one of the album’s most killer choruses and prominent guitar riffs while posing toward brown/black skin, very tongue-in-cheek, “Can you break sometimes?” (The answer is no.) When somber, “Take Your Time” is a comforting reprieve, where vocals reach for new heights in delirious glory. Singing has never been Blood Orange’s forte, but there is something to be said of its nakedness, especially when pushed to the very brink of each last breath.

Hynes avoids lingering in the spotlight for too long. The album is atypically feature-heavy, but the results are a mixed bag. Diddy’s brief and vulnerable appearance brings plenty of personality to “Hope.” As usual, Georgia Anne Muldrow is in godly form on the Pharcyde love-letter “Runnin’.” But A$AP Rocky delivers an instantly forgettable verse on “Chewing Gum” about his ex, toothpaste, and riding on the dick “with no license and shit.” At best, it’s just about listenable; at worst, it’s puzzling and thoroughly awkward.

There’s no denying that Blood Orange has become, aesthetically, a slicker and smarter project in taking this resolute turn toward regal, monochromatic pop and soul. That being said, Rocky’s feature is just one of the many instances where this newfound approach reveals itself as a cloud of disparate ideas that ultimately dampen the impact of any overarching statement. Most of this issue stems from a tendency to recklessly introduce and eliminate potentially powerful ideas. The gospel-inflected vocalizations of “Holy Will” were a welcome move, sharply contrasted against more rhythmic backbones elsewhere — after all, Hynes is capable of creating juxtaposition. Unfortunately, backloading drums and more syrup synths toward the end of the song provides only a fleeting glimmer of variation that deserved development. “Jewelry” blossoms into an understated electro-soul bop, only for a confused blend of detuned guitars, vocal inflections, and ad-libs to steal the show.

Janet Mock’s narration plays an integral role, as it bridges various musical passages together. But most of the time, it feels conceptually disjointed. That’s not to say that Mock’s insight isn’t valuable, but its collaborative role with the music is largely surface-level, featuring arbitrary trade-offs between her and Hynes. The obsession over performativity and the need to limit self-expression in certain spaces seems to suggest that the subject matter at hand — Negro Swan — represents some kind of unshackled representation of the artist’s voice. If this really is the case, it’s disappointing to see Hynes fall prey to relatively safe resolutions when preoccupied with complex, intersectional ideas. The sheer amount of songs that dissolve into a pastiche of floating keyboards, atmospheric city sounds, and other jazzy detritus is exhausting, and truly accepting these features as representative of the album’s lofty thematic aspirations is not easy. New York City and the confines of bohemian intellectualism (“Got big books and I’m broke”) are motifs that fail to connect. Take the additional battery of tracks, including “Vulture Baby” and “Minetta Creek,” that are 100% vibes but not much else and it gets less appetizing to pick out meaningful assertions among the filler.

Identity and the burden of performance are grueling enough to articulate, let alone deconstruct for others. It is deeply, deeply layered. For those without brown or black skin, there’s no beginning or end to this discussion. Negro Swan is certainly an excellent primer, with enough defiance and unapologetic celebration to go around. In being both celebratory and broken, it embodies the disenfranchised human. Hynes takes ownership of that dissonance. Rather than a vague interest in creating bite-sized political fodder, the album is indeed invested in rejecting one-dimensional interpretations of being black and/or queer.

Confrontational moments, however, are scarce. It all sounds incredible, but there is a fundamental, unignorable disconnect between what wants (or needs) to be said and what is actually said. Situating oneself in New York City may be one of the easiest things to do while listening to Negro Swan, which is a fairly lukewarm prospect. Perhaps Negro Swan is merely a step along the way, as Blood Orange continues to contend with monolithic, difficult ideas, but for now, this patchwork of sweltering grooves, amicable conversations, and urban ambience remains limited in its vision.

Fri Sep 14 06:24:56 CEST 2018

60

Tiny Mix Tapes

Blood Orange
Negro Swan

[Domino; 2018]

Rating: 3/5

Ever since abandoning the tranquil, indie pop tendencies of Coastal Grooves and Cupid Deluxe, Devonte Hynes has become unafraid of taking risks. The nocturnal expanses of Freetown Sound were (and still are) a full-bodied testament to that fact. While Blood Orange may have originated within the confines of bedroom music, the calling of shared histories and experiences, drawing from Hynes’s diasporic beginnings, have come into focus.

Negro Swan is Hynes’s most ambitious undertaking to date. While the blinds are still partially drawn and things feel characteristically brooding, a typical Blood Orange track is no longer sullied by insular drum machine patterns and oceanic reverb: voices are fully present, percussion sits resolutely front-and-center in the mix, and every bass line maintains a warm embrace. The album battles the myriad complexities of black depression, queer existence, and finding safety in a world that was never tailored for you.

You can touch blackness as the Negro Swan. The tactile manifestations of a marginalized person’s life — hair, skin, clothes — become the canvas of Blood Orange’s choosing; “Your skin’s a flag that shines for us all” the emphatic battle cry of a life’s radiance undermined. Tactility is of paramount importance. A crisper take on production results in songs feeling physically closer than they ever have; although a wealth of rewarding grooves exist, it’s the stark, minimal tracks that showcase a side we haven’t experienced before.

There’s close attention to each potent hook, and it shows. “First kiss was the floor” is undergirded by a sway so infectious that it’s easy to overlook the refrain’s devastating personal truth. “Charcoal Baby” features one of the album’s most killer choruses and prominent guitar riffs while posing toward brown/black skin, very tongue-in-cheek, “Can you break sometimes?” (The answer is no.) When somber, “Take Your Time” is a comforting reprieve, where vocals reach for new heights in delirious glory. Singing has never been Blood Orange’s forte, but there is something to be said of its nakedness, especially when pushed to the very brink of each last breath.

Hynes avoids lingering in the spotlight for too long. The album is atypically feature-heavy, but the results are a mixed bag. Diddy’s brief and vulnerable appearance brings plenty of personality to “Hope.” As usual, Georgia Anne Muldrow is in godly form on the Pharcyde love-letter “Runnin’.” But A$AP Rocky delivers an instantly forgettable verse on “Chewing Gum” about his ex, toothpaste, and riding on the dick “with no license and shit.” At best, it’s just about listenable; at worst, it’s puzzling and thoroughly awkward.

There’s no denying that Blood Orange has become, aesthetically, a slicker and smarter project in taking this resolute turn toward regal, monochromatic pop and soul. That being said, Rocky’s feature is just one of the many instances where this newfound approach reveals itself as a cloud of disparate ideas that ultimately dampen the impact of any overarching statement. Most of this issue stems from a tendency to recklessly introduce and eliminate potentially powerful ideas. The gospel-inflected vocalizations of “Holy Will” were a welcome move, sharply contrasted against more rhythmic backbones elsewhere — after all, Hynes is capable of creating juxtaposition. Unfortunately, backloading drums and more syrup synths toward the end of the song provides only a fleeting glimmer of variation that deserved development. “Jewelry” blossoms into an understated electro-soul bop, only for a confused blend of detuned guitars, vocal inflections, and ad-libs to steal the show.

Janet Mock’s narration plays an integral role, as it bridges various musical passages together. But most of the time, it feels conceptually disjointed. That’s not to say that Mock’s insight isn’t valuable, but its collaborative role with the music is largely surface-level, featuring arbitrary trade-offs between her and Hynes. The obsession over performativity and the need to limit self-expression in certain spaces seems to suggest that the subject matter at hand — Negro Swan — represents some kind of unshackled representation of the artist’s voice. If this really is the case, it’s disappointing to see Hynes fall prey to relatively safe resolutions when preoccupied with complex, intersectional ideas. The sheer amount of songs that dissolve into a pastiche of floating keyboards, atmospheric city sounds, and other jazzy detritus is exhausting, and truly accepting these features as representative of the album’s lofty thematic aspirations is not easy. New York City and the confines of bohemian intellectualism (“Got big books and I’m broke”) are motifs that fail to connect. Take the additional battery of tracks, including “Vulture Baby” and “Minetta Creek,” that are 100% vibes but not much else and it gets less appetizing to pick out meaningful assertions among the filler.

Identity and the burden of performance are grueling enough to articulate, let alone deconstruct for others. It is deeply, deeply layered. For those without brown or black skin, there’s no beginning or end to this discussion. Negro Swan is certainly an excellent primer, with enough defiance and unapologetic celebration to go around. In being both celebratory and broken, it embodies the disenfranchised human. Hynes takes ownership of that dissonance. Rather than a vague interest in creating bite-sized political fodder, the album is indeed invested in rejecting one-dimensional interpretations of being black and/or queer.

Confrontational moments, however, are scarce. It all sounds incredible, but there is a fundamental, unignorable disconnect between what wants (or needs) to be said and what is actually said. Situating oneself in New York City may be one of the easiest things to do while listening to Negro Swan, which is a fairly lukewarm prospect. Perhaps Negro Swan is merely a step along the way, as Blood Orange continues to contend with monolithic, difficult ideas, but for now, this patchwork of sweltering grooves, amicable conversations, and urban ambience remains limited in its vision.

Fri Sep 14 06:24:56 CEST 2018