Review I Blood Orange - Angel's Pulse
Blood Orange (a.k.a. Dev Hynes) released his latest album, Negro Swan, to critical acclaim. But does his latest mixtape live up to this?
Back in August of 2018, Devonté Hynes, better known as Blood Orange, released the dreamy and soulfully vulnerable album Negro Swan to great critical success. Seen as Hynes’ best effort, Negro Swan continued the musical shift that Hynes’ initiated in his previous effort Freetown Sound (2016), where he distanced himself from the rhythmically upbeat and funk sensibilities found in Cupid Deluxe (2013). Both Negro Swan and Freetown Sound slow down the tempo and focus on the personal musings vented from Hynes’ melodic and sincere voice. However, Negro Swan made a cooler and more concise personal statement while also progressing into darker and dreamier territories. The alternative R&B sound mixed with dream-pop textures helped carve out and solidify a distinct Blood Orange sound. A year later, Blood Orange returns with Angel's Pulse, continuing the same themes but opting to be musically softer.
One of the first noticeable features of Angel's Pulse is the tonal difference. While Negro Swan felt and moved in theatrical fashion with songs cohesively streaming into one another, Angel's Pulse feels like a swift collection of songs related to the emotional obstacles that we’re used to listening to with Blood Orange. As opposed to the pure emotional fragility exhibited in Negro Swan, the music here conveys a greater sense of reflection and consciousness. The songs feel lighter and less intense than one is accustomed to. In “I Wanna C U”, Hynes’ vulnerability is altered to a more composed and lax grounding. The casual guitar rhythm, and the nostalgic pleas of Hynes’ soothing voice channel a simple and nostalgic expression of mental sighing. In doing so, it offers a nice, light departure into nostalgia rather than hopelessness. In “Dark and Handsome”, there is obvious disappointment, but there is greater personal acknowledgement on display. The contemplative beats and echoing emphasis on certain words imply a deeper introspection on Hynes’ part. There is still darkness present, but it is time to reflect on fear rather than simply be scarred. A related theme is continued in “Benzo”, where the uncertain trumpets and wishful background vocals turn into a mournful vibe, although there is still some hope “outside”. With “Good For You”, the clouds clear up a little to make room for warmth. The combination of distorted guitar strums with Justine Syke’s compassionate singing switch up the mood towards a positive one. In culmination, mid-tempo beats and lightly fuzzing synthesizers are the elementa communia of this project, and while, not necessarily a bad thing, it raises a completion issue with some of the tracks. Regardless, the production is clear and soothing with background sounds whispering in and out frequently. Given the short length of the songs, there is less drag going from top to bottom, an issue that plagued Negro Swan. The music keeps it simple and ambient without needing to make the listener wait for the punchline.
Lyrically, one can expect similar themes of loneliness, hurt, and nostalgia that are typical of Blood Orange’s repertoire. “Take It Back” offers a claim to avenging one’s own spirit as perfectly uttered in the words “the skies remain broken, you can't take back a bullet, that shit will see right through it, one shot to make it through it / see, I'm a bit manic-depressive, glad I didn't do it”. The way the words aggressively spit out after the mopey slurs from Hynes open up a hidden strength that the listener was not previously aware of. In contrast, one gets the vulnerability from “Tuesday Feeling (Choose To Stay)”. Being in a position to “choose to ignore blues, something to get in your way, uh, you choose to stay (You choose to stay)”. The conflicting emotions of weakness and resistance ambiguously cloud the individual; at times it seems too much to move on from the accustomed level of sadness that one consistently gets, and it is easier just to suffer. Listening to all these words, Angel's Pulse makes sure to reflect the pain inside of Hynes' heart and resonate with our own times of loneliness or anxiety.
These days, it is difficult to expect substantial change over a year. Even so, Angel's Pulse does bring in some interesting ideas to consider for future Blood Orange releases. Although it would be unfair to criticize Angel's Pulse like a studio album, it is worth nothing that it does have its fair share of weakness. In this mixtape, some tracks feel more complete than others. That is to say that some of the tracks begin well but lack the polishing that would have made them memorable. Take for example the opener “I Wanna C U”. While being a bright spot, its direction could have been improved. It abruptly finishes when it the sounds started to develop, leaving the listener wanting more. Oddly enough, the song transitions into prelude “Something To Do”. It seems questionable to have a 58 second transition right after two minutes of music. This concern permeates in some of the middle and ending tracks. When going back, one can point to sections in songs like "Birmingham" that should have gone in different directions rather than playing it safe. The climax should have happened with minute or more of music but was instead teased out. Overall, Angel's Pulse mostly suffers from a lack of completion. The result is bad but could have been avoided if more time was spent on tuning the songs with a little more thought.
When all is heard, Angel's Pulse is a decent project that could have been great if more time was spent with the material, as there are pieces missing throughout that prevent greater diversity and precision in execution. Overall, nothing is alarmingly broken, but improvement should have been a task before being released. For the time being, Angel's Pulse should keep most fans content, but the longing for a full-length album is understandable. On the bright side, there are some solid moments, like a surprisingly lighter sound that will hopefully get developed in future Blood Orange releases.
Best Song: "I Wanna C U"
Worst Song "Gold Teeth"