Almost impossible to pigeonhole, the chameleon-like Dev Hynes began his career as one-third of short-lived dance-punk trio Test Icicles, but has since gone on to release two albums of nu-folk under the guise of Lightspeed Champion, become the producer of choice for a whole host of hipster-pop starlets (Sky Ferreira, Solange, MKS) and revive the late night 80s glamour of his adopted New York hometown with electronic side-project Blood Orange.
But as evident with his new album, Cupid Deluxe, it’s the latter where his versatile talents produce the most exquisite results. Inspired by a recent move to Manhattan, the follow-up to 2011’s Coastal Grooves still has both feet firmly planted in the decade in which Hynes was born. But this time round, the 27-year-old appears to have looked to the superstars of the era rather than its underground heroes.
Opener “Chamakay,” a gorgeously hazy duet with Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek (which once again suggests that the marimba is the hottest instrument of 2013), recalls the exotic pop of Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl.” “You’re Not Good Enough,” one of several tracks on Cupid Deluxe to feature the sultry tones of Friends’ Samantha Urbani, is a vindictive break-up anthem which channels the classic synth-funk of early Prince. “Uncle Ace” combines the addictive guitar licks of Chic with the deadpan demeanour of the Pet Shop Boys and a Kenny G-esque sax solo smoother than an Armani tux.
Elsewhere, Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth and Clams Casino help Blood Orange to whip up a quiet storm with the lush electro-soul of “No Right Thing.” “Chosen” is a triumphant blend of emphatic synth-snares, seductive French-language lyrics and funky slap bass-lines which ends with a soaring choral finale. Hynes also gives a nod to his London roots with “High Street,” a melancholic tale of life on a council estate fronted by grime rapper Skepta, and “Always Let U Down,” a swoonsome synth-pop retooling of Britpop outsiders Mansun’s 2000 single, “I Can Only Disappoint U.”
Hynes has previously struggled to sustain his artistic vision over the course of an entire album. But Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe is not only the most cohesive, consistent and compelling of his career, it’s also a late contender for record of the year.