On Negro Swan, Dev Hynes manages to find solace and utter beauty within sadness and pain. His slick and sexy production along with soothing vocal melodies creates a serene atmosphere over songs that are far darker than they may appear.
Devonte Hynes, or Blood Orange as he is more commonly known in the music industry, is no stranger to the craft and has been accelerating in popularity ever since his transition from post-punk rocker in band Test Icicles, to luscious R&B soul singer in his solo ventures. Negro Swan is his fourth album under the Blood Orange alias and the expectation was high given the critical reception of his previous work. Freetown Sound was an elegant piece of work full of attitude, while Coastal Grooves and Cupid Deluxe had moments of glittering quality and glamorous style; but what about his next album?
An instant standout of this album came from the singles released prior to release. Charcoal Baby and Jewelry oozed the typical Blood Orange swagger but seemed to have a new drive, a passion that was rarely felt at this level in his previous work. The former in particular has such a gorgeous poise to it despite being lyrically crushing, Hynes sings about being “the odd one out at times” in a vulnerable fashion while simultaneously sounding like the slickest man on God’s green Earth.
The general flow of this album helps create such an aurora around every single listen; right from the get go with Orlando‘s stunning bass riffs and synthesisers intertwining with Hynes’ soothing vocals. Through spoken word monologues about black excellence and the drive to do more comes the next song Saint which contains a catchy hook and a Tame Impala low-key style synth line at the beginning before bursting into exuberant life.
There are songs with crushing emotional lows, such as Take Your Time where Hynes uses a vast array of colloquialism and atmospheric sound to create a soundscape directly into his struggle. Dagenham Dream sounds like a spaced-out daydream while the album finale Smoke is an acoustic dive into the pure world of feeling yourself; courtesy of Dev himself.
The album brings such an intriguing feature list and all of them deliver something truly unique and add to the songs respectively. Hope sees Tei Shei offer up gorgeous female vocals and none other than Sean “Diddy” Combs adds some special sauce with a groovy hook and a monologue about the quest for love at the end. Steve Lacy proves how perfect a fit he is for this sound on Out Of Your League, A$AP Rocky brings a strong verse on the brilliant Chewing Gum; while Janet Mock steals the show with her consistent spoken word think pieces, preaching the importance of embracing yourself no matter what.
All in all this album oozes personality and a side to Dev that we knew was there but he hadn’t quite reached as Blood Orange. Well fear no more, we now fully appreciate the full train of thought of a man full of stunning elegance musically, while never be afraid to approach his demons and tell the musical world about his struggle. This album speaks on universal struggle, growing up in a society filled with conformity; but Dev Hynes doesn’t play by those rules. Negro Swan has become Blood Orange’s magnum opus already as far I can see it, he has created a finely tuned, precise and focuses album that will get you swaying from side to side while simultaneously challenging your personal demons.