Music Reviews
Cupid Deluxe

Blood Orange Cupid Deluxe

(Domino) Rating - 9/10

Devonté Hynes would be too modest and low-profile to rattle off his extensive swag list, but the London-raised, Brooklyn-based artist has dabbled in various disciplines and enjoyed a level of success enviable for any 27-year-old.  About the only thing he hasn’t done, funnily enough, is find a venue and voice of his own. Despite songwriting for top-selling and Grammy award-winning outfits, Dev’s career as a frontman has been less than impactful.  His work as Lightspeed Champion is vaguely recognized, but the end-result of that years-long tour was throat surgery and an indefinite hiatus.  His resurgence as Blood Orange led to 2011’s Coastal Grooves, an undefined and generic set (despite a few bright spots and promising glimpses) that ultimately proved forgettable.

What a difference 2 years can make. Blood Orange’s sophomore follow-up, Cupid Deluxe, is superior in every regard. Orchestrated almost entirely by Hynes and rounded out with numerous guest artists, this latest effort is thoroughly modern, oozing with style, and backed by gifted musicality. 

Perhaps most intriguing about Cupid Deluxe is how its extreme diversity of influences converge to form a sound both distinguishable and extremely present.  Hynes’ soulful, often androgynous croon is most strongly associated with R&B, but healthy doses of slap-funk bass, world instrumentation, electronic drum machines, and accented guest artists (male & female, American, British and French) make for a splattering of genres, regions, and time periods.  There are even spans of ambient bar noise and audible feedback from production equipment to breathe life and vitality into the cracks between tracks.  All of this combines to make Cupid a contemporary, omnicultural figure.  He’s a multiracial child wearing a bowler hat, shutter shades, pump shoes, bell bottoms, and a slim-fit argyle sweater.  A hodgepodge to be sure, but somehow, all put together, his look is fabulously unique.

Vocal texture is a key element of the aesthetic, but equally so is the overarching lyrical theme: broken people seeking solace and perfection in the arms of those who are equally broken.  With style to kill, the winged love-bringer of Hynes’ world sinks dull, rusty arrows into those already sporting open wounds.  Calling him "Cupid Deluxe" is some bitter irony, and while individual tracks offer either salt or salve, all serve as a pained reminder that this little menace inhabits our world, and no one is granted immunity. 

To accompany his fashion and disposition, the little love-bringer sports one hell of a heartbeat.  Coastal Grooves’ flaws were numerous, but none were bigger than its marginalization of the rhythm section in favor of lead lines.  That strategy works great when a lead instrumentalist is the feature presentation, but most of Hynes’ focal elements were bland pentatonic runs that did little to engage or intrigue.  Evident from the first thump of African drum in album opener and lead single Chamakay things are a little different this time around.  A marimba melody provides nice accompaniment, but the undeniable feature of the cut (and the album as a whole) is the percussion.  Chosen employs a wind-up drop beat that, even absent of other instrumentation, garners a head-nodding groove and anchors the six-plus minute track from start to finish.  Elsewhere, It Is What It Is opens measures with a bass drum punch liable to bowl over small children and the elderly, and Always Let U Down cleverly accents the same aggressive drum strikes with a shaker pattern, leaving just enough room for a snarling bass guitar to fill in the gaps.  It’s a marked shift in emphasis-- one that plays to compositional strengths and underscores the wealth of musical talent on display.

Though wildly successful in support of others, Dev Hynes has struggled to find a suitable vessel to carry him into the spotlight.  But with his latest as Blood Orange, his ship may have finally come in.  Floating gracefully, and guided by a stylish demigod of his own imagining, he glides atop the current of the zeitgeist as globalized and immediately accessible as the modern urban hub he calls home.