Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney // Recording engineered by Jon Ashley at Echo Mountain in Asheville, NC during Moogfest week 2011
No offense to Prince, but who needs him when we've got Devonte Hynes and Blood Orange these days? He's the backpack version of the Great Purple One, a lo-fidelity alter-ego who's actually putting out for us and not hermitic. He's the kind of Prince that most of us would prefer to hear. It's melodramatic soul music for those of us who spend our time mostly thumbing text messages back and forth to the people we want to spend the night with. He's the kind of songwriter who doesn't work in pretension or some weird persona. We're the distracted populous that doesn't need all the wasteful production that Prince would give us.
We want the bare bones. We want the meat to already be halfway ripped from those bones and chewed to pieces, already sitting out cold, piles of leftovers. We'd like for the raw emotions of the body to be lying, right there on the bed, able to be rifled through and examined more closely. Hynes has welcomed us all into his most intimate of quarters. It's where he writes these songs - he and his laptop and whatever else he might have handy to preoccupy himself with - and it's the place that he'd love to get you, in not so many words. He does sing on "Champagne Coast," "Come in to my bedroom," so maybe he is begging a little bit. It doesn't necessarily sound like begging, however. It sounds like a man who is willing to just give himself over to a night, to the feelings of those cold, cold nights that don't have to be that way.
There's a say-eyed nature to what Hynes is doing here as Blood Orange, and it's a bit of a carryover from his previous foray as Lightspeed Champion, which was more of an homage to Weezer's "Pinkerton," and somewhat to Dashboard Confessional's "The Swiss Army Romance," but there's more classic songwriting here than he's ever been able to pull off before. It's a breakout record in that sense, and in the sense that it feels like it's him at his most vulnerable and it's something that most people writing what are essentially R&B ballads (done this way, with the acoustic piano and voice) would never give us. He comes across the same way that Diamond Rings came off in his Daytrotter session taping, when he stripped the songs of their grandiose gooeyness and a bit of their club fun and let them speak more intimately, probably as they were originally conceived.
Hynes sings on "Sutphin Boulevard," off of 2011's "Coastal Grooves," "It's so true/It's so true/Funny how it only seems to work at night," and it feels like a plea for some kind of sympathy from someone, anyone, anywhere, who might recognize that there's a real struggle going on here. It can't be seen. It hurts like hell and there's no stopping it. It could just be that there's nothing that anyone can do and the nights will continue to be fundamentally damaged and impassionate - able to be manipulated subtly, but never fixed. The body shots will keep coming, weakening him, but never breaking him completely. He'll still be able to crawl over to that piano and that computer, if he wants to, and let us in on what's changed, how he is right now, the feelings flowing, leaving us with another cliffhanger.