Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Blood Orange

  • Cupid Deluxe [Domino, 2013] B+
  • Freetown Sound [Domino, 2016] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Cupid Deluxe [Domino, 2013]
Four arresting pieces of intelligent funk-lite set up six merely accomplished pieces of intelligent funk-lite before Dev Hynes's virtuosity saves the day. The transvestite subway trip "Uncle ACE" turns focus track when its distressed harmonics bloom into a saxish finale-turned-fade, with David Longstreth's pained shtick right after augmenting the mood. But despite the added charge of two surprise raps whose ordinary male sexism and striving accentuate Hynes's doomed sweetness, too much vocal space is tendered the pretty, vacant Samantha Urbani. Only when the auteur's piano saturates the climactic "Time Will Tell" does his vision of romance in perpetual suspended animation regain the poignancy he's so convinced it's worth. B+

Freetown Sound [Domino, 2016]
Don't let the spoken-word samples that signify Dev Hynes's intellectual ambitions distract you from the smartest stuff here--namely, the choruses that beckon you through them. Then home in on the extraordinary run of women singers who enliven and intensify his songs as past collaborators have not: Empress Of, Carly Rae Jepsen, Zuri Marley, Debbie Harry, Nelly Furtado, Kelsey Lu, BEA1991, Ava Raiin. And dig how casually he varies his falsetto with bass-baritone chant-raps and juices his keyboards with percussion. The ambitions themselves could be clearer--why should "Hands Up" be so much more explicit about police violence than "Squash Squash" is about lives lost to addiction? But credit Hynes with connecting his romantic instability to a personal insecurity that in turn connects to what the larger society makes of his blackness and queerness--and for having the consciousness to insist that his blackness is rooted in Africa, and not just because his father was born there. A-