Album Review: Blood Orange – Negro Swan

Those with a sharp memory, may recognise Devonté Hynes from his previous work experience under the indie folk-heavy Lightspeed Champion alias. In the eight years since, Hynes has finetuned his sound into the experimental, electronic rhythm and blues notes of Blood Orange, releasing a series of finessed LP’s, rising highest in the acclaimed third album, Freetown Sound.

Negro Swan, the Brit’s fourth album, opens with the funky ‘Orlando’, it’s squidgy synthesiser and silky vocals transporting us to the heart of the city, the slow riding beat making an ideal companion for a laid-back window down weaving through the bustling traffic. As is meta for the album, and Blood Orange’s experimental artistry as a whole, the track comes to a close with the interjection of transgender activist, Janet Black’s conscious narrative.

Neatly inserted into the differing sound and lyricisms of each track are Hynes’ central concept for the album, which he articulates as:

“An exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of colour. A reach back into childhood and modern traumas, and the things we do to get through it all. The underlying thread through each piece on the album is the idea of hope, and the lights we can try to turn on within ourselves with a, hopefully, positive outcome of helping others out of their darkness.”

‘Saint’ utilises nineties hip hop tropes and sensual harmonies, intertwined with contemporary production. The album shifts in tempo, as ‘Saint’ flows intricately into the soothing tones and glistening flutes of ‘Take Your Time’. The first collaboration comes at the album’s quarter mark ‘Hope’, where Puff Daddy’s simple, meticulous bars tie carefully around Hynes delicate piano enriched production and dulcet vocals, courtesy of Tei Shi.

Of the sixteen tracks, ‘Jewelry’ is the most prominent example of the range of genres that Blood Orange encompasses, its distinctive shift in pace going from the sensual to silky. Furthering his alt, genre bending approach, the album’s lead single ‘Charcoal baby’ features distorted riffs, flexing into the border line between indie rock and funk which are held together by a convulsing bassline and sunny vocals. Jazz infused ‘Vulture Baby’ provides both a moment of reflection on white artists ventures into hip hop culture and a suitable intermission point for the album. ‘Chewing Gum’ differs in it’s collaborative approach to the rest of the LP, with Hynes’ crooning vocal riding the melodic steady beat for two minutes, before A$AP Rocky and Project Pat consolidate with trad rap verses.

The cascading gospel chords struck in ‘Holy Will’ paves the way for the beat driven ‘Dagenham Dream’, which harks back to the artist’s East London roots. The bittersweet excursion back down memory lane continues on ‘Nappy Wonder’, funky riff and loop keys create the soundscape for what Hynes’ describes as a song about “the escapism that [he] found through skating” to Pitchfork. ‘Runnin’ feels like the rawest take on the album, as veritable spoken word is mixed into the soulful tones of Georgia Anne Muldrow. The Internet’s Steve Lacey is the final guest on Negro Swan, in the hazy percussion heavy ‘Out of Your League’, which is complimented by hip ‘Minetta Creek’. The album comes to a close with the stripped back ‘Smoke’, its delicate acoustic riffs and lulling falsetto bringing Negro Swan full circle.


By Charlotte Winspear