Genre: Alternative R&B
Favorite Tracks: “I Wanna C U,” “Dark & Handsome,” “Baby Florence,” “Tuesday Feeling,” “Take It Back,” “Happiness”
It’s easy to forget the sheer volume of music your favorite artist has stowed away on hard drives, never to see the light of day. We usually only see the finished product, packaged neatly into a concise 40 minutes or so, while the hundreds (or even thousands) of hours of music sit silently for decades until the artist dies and their estate decides (usually without consent) to squeeze the last bits of profits out of their creations with posthumous dumps of demos and outtakes. Thankfully, Devonte Hynes is very much alive and in the midst of a long-sustained artistic prime that shows no signs of slowing any time soon. Less than a year after the release of his best record to date, Hynes has offered us a peak behind the curtain in the form of ANGEL’S PULSE, the first mixtape under the Blood Orange moniker.
Unlike the tapes Hynes put out as Lightspeed Champion (often written and recorded in a single day), ANGEL’S PULSE was treated like a proper album every step of the way until it came time to label it. And while it may run more scatterbrained than the Janet Mock-driven narrative of NEGRO SWAN, PULSE is its own entity, a self-contained story much more than just a collection of songs. It’s like watching a spin-off: the story makes sense without the prerequisite, but it’s more fun to spot the easter eggs, like when the distant conversations that filled out the background of some of the cuts on last year’s record peek through again on “Benzo,” or when the synth melody that soundtracked Mock’s spoken word pieces comes back to bookend the mixtape on “Today.” Moments like this enhance the experience and add to the lore of this era in Hynes’ career, yet are infrequent enough where the same dirt is not dug twice.
“Baby Florence (Figure)” straddles the border between old and new with drum programming that could pass for techno—a new addition to the Blood Orange canon—and a mix of melodies and bass riffs that could’ve just as easily been on FREETOWN SOUND and CUPID DELUXE, respectively. And whereas much of the more somber lyrical themes on NEGRO SWAN came from Hynes while the guest features lightened the tracks with an optimistic bend, ANGEL’S PULSE finds those roles reversed, most notably with Joba’s verse on which he works through his suicidal ideations. Though he’s only on the record for this brief contribution, Hynes has said Joba had a big influence on the mixtape, serving as a sounding board not just for loops and tracks, but Hynes’ personal struggles as well. Those struggles, namely the loss of his friends Sam Mehran and Mac Miller, are biographed on “Dark & Handsome,” which he teased this spring on THE LATE LATE SHOW. Hynes’ staccato flow sticks to the wall like glue, occasionally washed out by sun-soaked Auto-Tune that streaks through the mix like a hand smearing a freshly painted oil canvas. Toro y Moi chimes in with a rap verse of his own that touches on the recurring themes of impermanence and coping with pain through self-empowerment, and before you have time to catch your breath, the next track’s begun. The transitions are sudden throughout the mixtape and with just two songs eclipsing three minutes, they come often. It’s the defining feature that sets the tape apart from the studio albums which are patiently paced like a Sunday stroll. There are no huge surprises, nothing that’ll make you say, “Wait, Blood Orange made this?” It’s still his special blend of psych-rock, gospel, and rap bolstered by drum machines that smack, bounce, and hop. A handful of tracks, namely “I Wanna C U,” end earlier than they have to, but nothing is rushed, incomplete, or forced, an impressive feat for a project with such a smattering of sounds, genres, and guests that could’ve came out like a suitcase packed by a hungover student rushing to catch a flight.
ANGEL’S PULSE is an epilogue well worth reading, concise yet full of life. A neatly tied bow on a gift we don’t deserve.