Published Jul 11, 2019Creative restlessness has been a hallmark of Dev Hynes' career since day one. From his days in Test Icicles through his time as Lightspeed Champion to his more recent projects as Blood Orange, Hynes has never felt comfortable occupying the same space for long.
We get the hear the fruits of that musical evolution in the form of albums like Freetown Sound or last year's excellent Negro Swan. But the progression doesn't happen in such neat silos. Rather, it's part of a continuum, one his fans rarely get to see: Hynes has admitted to shelving entire albums worth of material in the past, as he transitioned between records, circulating the music amongst a small group of friends and collaborators.
Angel's Pulse could have easily followed that fate, but for reasons that remain unclear, Hynes has decided to release it as a mixtape. "I'm older now though, and life is unpredictable and terrifying," he says in the project's press release, "so here you go mates."
The record — sorry, mixtape — certainly hues close to the sonic palette of Negro Swan, a loose and hazy vibe punctuated by a bedroom pop-R&B aesthetic. These aren't leftovers — they were recorded after Negro Swan, and there has been some musical progression, but not enough to fully separate it from the previous LP, still less than a year old. That probably goes a long way to explaining he's avoiding calling this an album.
Hynes produced, performed and mixed the entire thing, but the guest list reads as anything but a bedroom record; Negro Swan's unsung hero Ian Isiah is here, as is Porches' Aaron Maine. They're joined by Kelsey Lu, Tinashe, Toro Y Moi and Arca, just to name a few. Tossed off experiments, these are not.
The greatest criticism you could level at the collection is that it lacks the thematic weight and cohesion of its predecessor. "Otherness," for lack of a better word, remains a running concern, but, on the surface, Angel's Pulse doesn't offer a larger narrative arc the way Negro Swan did.
I say "on the surface," because while Hynes makes very purposeful creative decisions, he also concedes that everyone who touches the resulting art — collaborators, listeners — imbue it with additional meaning it, none of it incorrect. A Blood Orange record tends to reveal itself over time, and that meaning can change, depending on context.
Even so, this is still a very good album. Its highlights — "Benzo," "Gold Teeth" featuring Project Pat, Gangsta Boo and Tinashe, and the Toro Y Moi-assisted "Dark & Handsome" — stand next to the best of its predecessor. Nothing feels out of place, even the boom-box rap of "Seven Hours Part 1" featuring BennY RevivaL. It feels like an album; most artists only dream of making records of this calibre.
More than pointing the way forward, Angel's Pulse seems to be closing the door on this phase of Hynes' creative journey. No mere addendum, it lives up to the high bar set by Hynes, while giving us a small, but significant, glimpse into his process. (Domino)