“Four Songs,” Blood Orange’s first release in three years, is pretty much exactly as its title suggests: four brief cuts from the continually shapeshifting multi-instrumentalist Devonté Hynes. When he wasn’t opening for Harry Styles at Madison Square Garden or garnering Grammy nominations for his classical collaborations with the ensemble Third Coast Percussion, Hynes, better known as Blood Orange, found time to whip these up. Despite his distinctly decorated resume, his work has always maintained a certain quality of being effortlessly gorgeous — these new tracks are no different.
While something of a low-profile release given the hype around his long-anticipated return to music, “Four Songs” is confident in its simplicity. Each track is meticulously crafted, pushing Hynes’ talent for discreet vocals and backing to its absolute limits. Although they’re instrumentally sparse, these tracks still sound booming and alive. Across the board, the production has a fantastic, full sound that demands to be played at full volume.
The endearing funk-esque sounds on 2018’s “Negro Swan” seem to have given way to more trance and electronic centered-influences. Opener and lead single “Jesus Freak Lighter” begins with a swarm of static that gives way to a spacey, almost psychedelic landscape. Over nothing more than mechanical percussion and a simple guitar line, Hynes’ cryptically repeats “Falling, falling / Got carried away / Living in my head, photo fantasy / Save it on my phone.” The bare-bones feeling of this song seems like Blood Orange sound stripped-down to its most elemental state. When the chorus finally hits, blaring synth pads overtake the hypnotic rhythm in a beautiful swell. At around two and a half minutes, “Jesus Freak Lighter” is a perfectly crafted snapshot of an implacable vibe, growing more full with every repeated listen.
On the distinctly more head-boppable “Something You Know,” a duet of phased out guitar and thumping bass deliver a less rigid sound, calling to mind the sound of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Coupled with a once again seldom-changing chorus of “Oh, it’s something that you know / Oh, it’s something that you know,” a delicate organ bridge magically ties it all together. The album’s closer, “Relax and Run” — featuring Erika de Casier and Eva Tolkin — plays with a similar sound, while also weaving in interesting bursts of a sort of half-spoken, half-sung chorus of “Choose a spark, a feeling, what’s left? / Dry, boring, nothing but dread / Choose a spark and run it to death / Try to forget it, keep it, what’s left?”
The highlight here, as well as the highest energy track of the bunch, ”Wish,” initially feels like it could be a ’90s club hit played at half speed. Oozing synth pads wrapped around a condensed kick drum heart are straight out of that era, and the track continues to take on layers. The gradual addition of sparkling guitar riffs and unexpected, airy piano melodies makes for a wonderfully overwhelming conclusion. As Hynes’ beautifully sings, “And you wish it all and you wish it all went your way,” he captures the soaring, symphonic emotionality of the best Blood Orange tracks.
”Four Songs” is an encouraging, unexpected comeback for Blood Orange. Hynes pushes his lyrics to a ghostlike edge, seemingly intent on stripping down his sound and re-centering on building evocative, yet fleeting glimpses of moods. This percussion forward sound, indebted to the disciplined rhythms of techno and trance, sound as though his work as a classical composer has infiltrated his typical R&B and funk-focused sound. In some respects, it’s as if Blood Orange has begun to find as much value in the empty space as the sound itself.
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