INT. BATHROOM — DAWN: Slow track left to reveal HYNES luxuriously bathing in an overflowing bejeweled tub. A soft, pastel lavender glow pulses. Camera stops as HYNES is shown in profile. Cut to FULL SHOT, a lone SWAN resting in the water. Candles illuminate the modest room. Blood Orange‘s ‘Negro Swan’ pervades the space.
Such is the image Dev Hynes‘s latest Blood Orange release conjures from its outset as heady, regal, and velvety tracks simultaneously caress and invigorate listeners. An immaculate synthesis of piano-and-guitar-laced R&B (“Jewelry”), vapory, sophisticated pop (“Dagenham Dream”), and galactic funk (“Nappy Wonder”), ‘Negro Swan’ is ethereal, dazzling without tiring audiences. Casually traversing its fifty-minute length, the album’s even pace encourages listeners to engage with it entirely rather than sifting for a few notable tracks. Relatively more subdued than 2016’s ‘Freetown Sound‘, ‘Negro Swan’ highlights spiritually evocative vocals (“Holy Will”) and introspective, jazz-laden interludes (“Family”) that seamlessly unfurl into the next astounding movement.
Writer and transgender activist Janet Mock provides condensed insights à la Solange‘s ‘A Seat at the Table‘ easily develop as Hynes introduces a pastiche of found sounds, light flutes, droning synths, and solid guest support from Diddy, Tei Shi, A$AP Rocky, Project Pat, Ian Isiah, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Steve Lacy. The subsequently intimate feel this collective approach evokes draws listeners closer to ‘Negro Swan’, a comforting-yet-breath-taking highlight in Hynes‘s impressive discography. Beyond its musical traits, ‘Negro Swan’ offers yet another classic Blood Orange cover as Ana Kraš’s photo of Kai the Black Angel, his ruffled feathers and obscured face suggesting weariness, matches the excellent visuals of ‘Freetown Sound’, ‘Cupid Deluxe’, and ‘Coastal Grooves’.
‘Negro Swan’ feels ineffable, a listening experience to meditate on throughout multiple listens, self-care rituals, and resolutely being in the world. Even as the album delves into tenuous queer/person-of-color existence, there remains a tender light that envelopes listeners; rather than plunging one into despair, Hynes leaves one enrapt, fully vulnerable, but also inundated with swirling love. In this way, Dev Hynes has once again blessed audiences with a Blood Orange record that will prove an essential, superb release far beyond the waning months of 2018.
‘Negro Swan’ is out now via Domino.