Nearly five years ago now, light-speed travelling, icicle testing citrus fruit lover Devonte Hynes, A.K.A Blood Orange, released Coastal Grooves; a meditative, longing album that prayed for the closeness of understanding, warmth and touch. Its smooth amalgamation of motorik-inspired beats, reverberating 80’s soul and disco production spoke to a presence of both hope and doubt as Hynes began a swim through what seemed like a maelstrom of anxiety, but with a confident, assured attitude that indicated an inevitable overcoming.
The syncopated, undulating pensiveness of Cupid Deluxe followed two years later; Hynes was deep in the middle of his journey to the now mythical “champagne coast” and evidently unsure if he would make it, as the jagged, stumbling funk and crooning, sincere lyricism within hinted at a loss of confidence, companionship and comfort.
Now, however, the journey is complete, and what a triumph it has turned out to be. Hynes has reached the “champagne coast” and has returned to report what he has found. On Freetown Sound, we hear pride, pleasure and a new, world-weary knowledge of struggle but the ultimate relief of overcoming it.
Freetown Sound sees Hynes at his most indulgent, and therefore at his most confident and creative. At a healthy seventeen tracks long, one would expect distraction round the corner, but that’s not the case here. Time is often filled with intriguing cuts of interviews and conversations and though Hynes has always delicately walked the line between performer, writer and producer, the boundary has become nicely blurred here.
Hynes cleverly holds onto your attention with a long list of features that never become at all overbearing and are in fact crucial to the album’s success on a thematic level; the album’s opening vignette, By Ourselves, features slam poet Ashlee Haze setting a set of key thematic benchmarks for Freetown Sound; the questions powering debates of blackness, the expectations of black people and their representation. These overarching themes lead into questions of masculinity, relationships, family, faith and love through a black lens.
The album also features musical contributions from, among others, Lorely Rodriguez, Nelly Furtado and Debbie Harry, who float above Hynes’s production as outside voices that interplay with him, probing and prying longingly on the results of his journey, but combining with Hynes’s vocals seamlessly during the choruses, becoming part of his dialogue as their passion intensifies and reaches an understanding; an equilibrium. The interview samples raise the questions that fuel Hynes’s conversation with himself and those around him, and now, with us.
The comfort and strength of Freetown Sound also lies in its consistency. The beats on the prior Cupid Deluxe were shaky, syncopated programmed odes to life in a melancholic jungle, with the anchoring electric bass serving as the warmth opposite the thumping, threadbare production. Though it was successful, Freetown Sound takes the rhythmic quality of Hynes’s music one step further by having the bass and drums work closer together. This is best exemplified on some of the deeper cuts; Augustine, Best To You, But You, Desiree, and Juicy 1-4 are absolute must haves in Hynes’s hypothetical Hall of Funk.
Freetown Sound is a gem; not only is it Hynes’s finest distillation of his exploration of 80’s dance music, soul music and R&B, but thematically, it offers the opportunity to hear what happens when a man goes on a triumphant journey to a place he’d always dreamed about, yet returned older, wiser and with as many questions as he has answers. At least now, you’ll be much less afraid to ask the questions you never knew you always wanted to ask.
This Blood Orange article was written by Lawottim Anywar, a GIGsoup contributor