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Cupid Deluxe Falls Short

Allie Tollaksen | Monday, November 11, 2013

Next Monday, performer and songwriter Devonté “Dev” Hynes will officially release his second studio album under moniker Blood Orange.  But if you’re too excited to wait until then, fear not. The album, “Cupid Deluxe,” is currently streaming on iTunes Radio right now. 

If you’re not excited yet, maybe a little background information will change your mind. Though you may think you’ve never heard of Dev Hynes, you might be surprised to find out that he has had a hand in a number of projects and collaborations with other, more familiar artists. Hynes has previously recorded and performed under the name Lightspeed Champion, and during that time he played and toured with band members from Bright Eyes, Florence and the Machine and Tilly and the Wall. He was also a member of punk band Test Icicles way back in the mid 2000s

Along with recruiting others to play with him as Lightspeed Champion, Hynes has contributed to a number of other musical projects in the past decade. He was a songwriter on Florence and the Machine’s beloved album “Lungs,” contributed vocals to artists like the Chemical Brothers and arranged music for film soundtracks. As of late, you can hear his work in new Solange songs, and it’s rumored that he is working with Britney Spears. 

In 2009, after his time as Lightspeed, Hynes began writing and performing under the name Blood Orange, using it to explore a more electronic sound. In 2011, Blood Orange released its first studio album, “Coastal Grooves,” to mixed reviews, and “Cupid Deluxe” is Hynes’ next, and certainly more refined, attempt as Blood Orange. While “Coastal Grooves” was a guitar-driven, relatively simple album, “Cupid Deluxe” is immediately characterized by a more electronic sound with experimental instrumentals and plenty of funk.  

“Deluxe” opens with the album’s first single, a duet with Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek called “Chamakay.” The track is propelled forward by both vocalists singing verses in a tense, hushed tone and then breaking out into an emotional chorus. The song is slinky, moody and enjoyable if only to hear Hynes’ and Polachek’s vocals beautifully intertwine and pull apart throughout the ballad.

“Chamakay” is immediately followed by the album’s second and most recent single, “You’re Not Good Enough.” The standout track on “Deluxe” so far, “You’re Not Good Enough” is another duet – this time with Friends’ singer Samantha Urbani. But while “Chamakay” was an emotional slow jam, “You’re Not Good Enough” is far more of a powerhouse, with a poppy beat and breakup lyrics just angry enough. However, unlike “Chamakay,” the song sounds less convincing as a duet. Though Urbani’s voice sounds great, the repetitive melody and echoed vocals of the singers make their parts sound more redundant than complimentary.  

Standout tracks include “No Right Thing,” with a captivating melody where Hynes’ vocals really shine, as well as “It Is What It Is,” my favorite song on the album. “It Is What It Is” is an example of when Blood Orange’s dramatic vocals, subtle instrumentation and funk influence come together to make a dynamic and emotional R&B track.

It’s basically impossible to talk about Blood Orange without talking about Prince, and this fact is truer after listening to “Cupid Deluxe.” There were times where the slapped basslines sounded like they were taken directly from “Purple Rain,” and even points where vocals sounded so much like early Prince.  I sometimes had to pause to make sure I was still listening to the same album. (Let’s not forget about track eight on the new album with the ever-so-Prince title, “Always Let U Down.”)

After clearing through the purple fog, you can begin to hear some of the impressive arrangements Hynes has created. But still, these arrangements for the most part felt clouded in a sense of nostalgia, often to a point of distraction. Though I usually have no problem with music inspired by another time, certain songs were so 70s funk and R&B inspired that they simply felt dated. While “Cupid Deluxe” certainly shows off Hynes’ chops as a writer and guitarist, the end product left more to be desired from such talent. 

Contact Allie Tollaksen at [email protected]