Blood Orange – Freetown Sound (2016): Review


Produced by Devonte Hynes
Label – Domino

In May of this year Dev Hynes, better known as Blood Orange, dedicated his new album, titled “Freetown Sound” to “everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way, the [underappreciated]… it’s a clapback”. The record is indeed often affected by ruminations of a man assessing the world from the perspective of a direct Afro/Caribbean heritage , summed up by “I’m proud of my name, I’m proud of my dad, I’m proud of my family, but it’s very strange to have to carry that. We all carry that, every black person carries that”. The music is of course a world away from his first appearance as a member of the patchy art rock trio, Test-Icicles, with whom he keeps an understanding distance. As Lightspeed Champion there was definite improvement, but one felt there was still room for the Londoner to develop his sound beyond the indie folk of his two long players. As Blood Orange, this is his third and undoubtedly best recording, a mix of electronic soul, R&B, funk and baroque pop. His writing and production efforts for others, including Diana Vickers, Solange Knowles and Sugababes has honed his skills in both instrumental skill and arrangement technique. He uses samples sparingly but highly effectively, with opener “By Ourselves” taking an impassioned, impactful poem from Atlanta writer Ashlee Haze, celebrating the importance of Missy Elliot to young black women of her generation, and the way they helped formulate a clear identity. On the beautiful “Augustine” he emotively laments U.S. society, with comparisons to Saint Augustine’s conversion to Christianity. Hynes’ move from the U.K. to the U.S. has been an awakening to social injustice, and alleged police brutality to black people plays a very strong part in his thoughts and writing, particularly the shooting of Trayvon Martin (“Tell me, did you lose your son? Tell me, would you lose your love? Cry and birth my deafness, While Trayvon falls asleep”).


Elsewhere, “E.V.P.” features the icy Debbie Harry vocal supported by a seductively stripped down funk jam. The jazzy De La Soul sample used on “Thank You” adds a familiar 90s R&B kick, creating a wholly contemporary take on the nostalgic sounds of the past. Indeed, the classic roots that lie at the source of songs like “Desirée” and “Best To You” are carefully updated to pull off a timeless quality that’s difficult to resist. Allowing guests to take vocal responsibilities makes for some interesting diversions, and the songs sung by Ava Raiin and Carly Rae Jepson benefit from this, but the real highlight is the stunning ballad performed by Nelly Furtado, “Hadron Collider”. Her swooning sweet tones glisten celestially over a lyric that sees her and Hynes floating to the words “We should be dancing with the Angels, a thousand halos in the sky”.

With strong melodies throughout, compulsive arrangements and commendable lyrics “Freetown Sound” is as close to perfection Dev Hynes could get. It’s also one of the most important albums of 2016.


Track Rating
1 – By Ourselves (8)
2 – Augustine (9)
3 – Chance (8)
4 – Best To You (9)
5 – With Him (8)
6 – E.V.P. (9)
7 – Love Ya (8)
8 – But You (9)
9 – Desiree (9)
10 – Hands Up (8)
11 – Hadron Collider (10)
12 – Squash Squash (8)
13 – Juicy 1 – 4 (8)
14 – Better Than Me (9)
15 – Thank You (9)
16 – I Know (9)
17 – Better Numb (9)

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