Devonté Hynes, best known as Blood Orange, has released a sophomore album that manages to usurp the goodness of his debut, Coastal Grooves. With Cupid Deluxe, Hynes' takes cues from his mainstream producing credits for musicians like Florence Welch, The Chemical Brothers, Sky Ferreira and Solange Knowles. As a result, his tortured, beautiful soul can be heard on every inch of the vinyl (if vinyl was still a modern metaphor).
The first single, "Chamakay," initiates the album with a sultry, melancholic aura, with sensual vocals that lead into the taunting "You're Not Good Enough," which at times sounds like Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." He defensively asserts, "I never was in love/You were never good enough" in the manner of a lover protecting himself from being wounded. "Uncle Ace" bears a similar beat to "You're Not Good Enough" at first, with a rhythmically funk-like background and dark, brooding vocals. Written about the primary port in the storm for homeless LGBT youth in New York, the ACE, Blood Orange shows, once again, his empathy for the transgender community. In fact, Hynes has often cited Octavia St. Laurent, who gained fame in 1990's Paris Is Burning, as an inspiring muse. With an occasional saxophone peppered in, you're liable to not want "Uncle Ace" to end by the time you get far enough into it. "No Right Thing," the fourth track, is yet another soulful, sweltering sort of song that features a little bit of producing help from rapper Clams Casino.
"It Is What It Is" (boldly spelled correctly, unlike M.I.A.'s "It Iz What It Iz") possesses the fanciful vibe of an island retreat. The musical motif of the song mirrors some of The Knife's earlier (better) work. Following is "Chosen," which opens with angelic whimsy and then leads into an undeniable 80s beat that will fortify your will to live. It is a song that somehow seems like a subtle homage to all the struggling, cast out LGBT youth of New York (where Hynes resides) and London (where Hynes originally hails from). It would've fit in quite nicely on the Christmas episode of My So-Called Life where Rickie finds himself homeless and rejected by his family.
"Clipped On" is a track that puts the greatest emphasis on Hynes' voice as he sings, "All I do is think about you baby." The song is also notable for how hip hop-oriented it is, with vocal contributions from MC Despot. The hip hop sound remains faintly on the at first pained, "Alway Let U Down," an offering that affirms the universal fear so many people in a relationship have, which is, "I can only disappoint you 'cause I always let you down." The track then segues into an upbeat, hopeful air.
Winding down the album is "On the Line" (also the title of an oft forgotten Lance Bass movie, making Blood Orange stand out even more for his obscure references to gay culture--even when they're unintentional). The urgency and sincerity of Hynes' voice is evident in lyrics like, "Tell me if we're on the line/Tell me if you're in my life, don't go." The second to last track, "High Street" (because it wouldn't be a Blood Orange album without some sort of nod to London), is the closest we'll ever know of a truly impeccable Prince emulator. Amid Blood Orange's lush vocals, rapper Skepta tells the tale of existing on a council estate--the New York equivalent of a project.
"Time Will Tell," an appropriate name for a concluding track, has the musical aura of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and has the ability to soothe and ease away agony, stress and other unwanted sources of anxiety. Once again repeating the mantra, "It is what it is," this is they type of song you need to listen to when you're riding on the overpacked boxcar provided for you daily by the MTA.
Although Blood Orange has many other personas, including Test Icicles and Lightspeed Champion, he has never been more at home in his own skin than in the incarnation presented on Cupid Deluxe.