Dev Hynes is an unpredictable and accomplished song writer willing to turn his hand to almost any genre or style. From Hardcore Punk (as Test Icicles) to folk (as Lightspeed Champion) and soul and R&B (as Blood Orange). Hynes is willing to try it all but it is as Blood Orange that Hynes has started to make waves outside of cult acclaim.
Freetown Sound Hynes’ latest effort plays a lot like a mixtape. And Dev has been quoted as saying that he took influence from the Beastie Boys classic Paul’s Boutique, the flow of the album and use of sampling certainly supports that influence. It also feels as if Hynes took some influence from another great New York inspired mixtape album; David Holmes’ Let’s Get Killed. Freetown Sound is littered with vocal samples and recordings, which feel very similar to those now infamous recordings of New Yorkians, which Holmes made.
Despite the above influences the sound of Hynes’ latest effort is very different from the Beastie Boys or Holmes and takes in the alternative R&B, soul, funk and hip hop similar to the previous Blood Orange efforts. Everything sounds subtle and soft yet effective, rather than send you to sleep Freetown Sound strokes you gently into engaging with Hynes’ world and views.
Vocally Hynes’ voice is at its most polished and lush on Freetown Sound and frequently reaches impossibly high pitches. There is a strong recollection to 80s Prince about his vocal stylings this is most apparent on the gorgeous But You. Alongside But You there are several other tracks, which if there were justice in the world would be huge singles the most obvious of these is the tropical house inflected Best to You.
Hynes’ has always shown an adept ability to write a heart break anthem (see Solange’s Hynes’ penned Losing You) and Best to You has all these qualities. It is both catchy and cathartic with an almost subtle yet sing along chorus.
Throughout Freetown Sound Hynes’ asks and tackles some big questions such as: What is blackness? What is feminism? What does it mean to be a black women? What is sexuality? They are huge questions, which aren’t always answered; but then can they ever really be answered? What is commendable is not only the attempt to engage the listener in these subjects but to so it in a way, which is not Bono preachy or overly introverted. Hynes achieves both and on songs like Hands Up sends his statements and questions out openly into the world with all pretensions set aside.
Whilst Freetown Sound contains stand-alone tracks with anthemic brilliance the albums is also an engaging listen as a whole and makes much more sense heard this way. It would not be a stretch of the imagination or a surprise if Blood Orange were to receive a Mercury Music Prize nomination from this effort, it has that feel about it.
Dev Hynes’ is a brilliant and prolific song writer who when he is at his best (Falling off the Lavender Bridge, True EP, For Screening Purposes Only) is peerless. Freetown Sound is a further addition to his diverse and wonderful cannon of work.