Blood Orange’s new album “swan” a masterpiece

Alex Camilli, @A_Carnation

Multi-instrumentalist Dev Hynes formerly known as “Lightspeed Champion” has proved to release his most ambitious efforts under the alias “Blood Orange” often incorporating elements of gospel, pop, hip-hop, and R&B in his projects. Hynes 4th studio album “Negro Swan” has continued to incorporate a sense of displacement and isolation prevalent in his previous album “Freetown Sound” released in 2016.  

“Negro Swan” gives the audience more of those warm and soulful synths that establishes the vibe with the opening track “Orlando”. The funky drum groove reaches an abrupt halt towards the end of the track with guest speaker and American Writer Janet Mock speaking about the “internal resolution of doing too much”.  

That theme is mentioned a couple more times on another track titled “Jewelry” which initially seems to be disjointed with the arrangement of euphoric vocal melodies paired with grim lyrics performed through spoken word. The cacophony of vocal harmonies brings a sense of empowerment to the listener as if Hynes was hit with an epiphany despite the undesired and inescapable circumstances.  

Transitioning to the next track titled “Family” introduces Mock who shares an interesting perspective on what family is to to her. She acknowledges that bloodline is often associated with family but states we get to choose our family.

“We are not limited to biology, we get to make ourselves and we get to make our families,” said Mock.

The triumph in the track “Charcoal Baby” with nuances relating to being comfortable in black skin is a celebration compared to how the first half of the album panned out sonically.  

“Chewing Gum” is the ninth song on the project that features rappers “A$AP Rocky” and “Project Pat” who offer lyrics that hold explicit metaphors of being content with adversity. The gritty verses throughout the track ends with the vocals pitched down to deliver an ominous tone before segueing into the track titled “Holy Will”.

This song serves as a unofficial interlude and features Vocalist Ian Isiah singing in his higher register while accompanying Vocalist “Eva” softly sings The Clark Sisters’ “Center of Thy Will”. In an interview with Pitchfork Magazine Hynes reveals his intention on making a cover song that seems separate from the rest of the album.

“When it kicks off, it’s so far from what you think would be on a Blood Orange album, but as it progresses, when the synths come in, I wanted to pull you back into familiarity with things you do associate with me,” said Hynes.

The next couple tracks “Dangenham Dream” and “Nappy Wonder” which includes angelic and delayed chords with a very experimental drum arrangement. “Dangenham Dream” has lyrics gives off a narrative that tells a story how Hynes dealt with solitude skateboarding through the streets of East London.  

Though Hynes is a seasoned professional in the music industry hearing him speak about his hardships resonates with a wide demographic prompting listeners to not dwell on being accepted by anyone but yourself.

“Runnin’” serves as reassurance because the spoken word by Hynes serves as a negative introspection on ones character while the vocal harmonies by Vocalist Georgia Anne Muldrow affirms that these are things everyone goes through. Bassist Steve Lacy  from the band “The Internet” is featured on the track “Out of Your League” strangely Hynes recorded the bass for the track and Lacy recorded the synth keyboard chords.

Nearing the end of the track the listener is introduced to a gripping groove in “Minetta Creek” which gives a strong sense of ambience that is reminiscent of the city nightlife before reaching the final track “Smoke”. The acoustic guitar is the only instrument in the mix and the narrative being told describes a newfound self-acceptance while being adorned by the sun.

“Negro Swan” is an accessible masterpiece that has many great morals behind the blissful chord progressions and relevant skits. Hynes is significantly more precise with what emotion he is  trying to convey to the listener through his latest effort.