Frank & Beats: The Coastal Groves of Blood Orange

Aaron Frank found this to be slightly too mandarin. Dev Hynes’ initial solo outing as Lightspeed Champion in 2008 was a surprising departure from the dance punk his former outfit, Test Icicles,...
By    August 23, 2011

Aaron Frank found this to be slightly too mandarin.

Dev Hynes’ initial solo outing as Lightspeed Champion in 2008 was a surprising departure from the dance punk his former outfit, Test Icicles, wielded throughout the UK and Europe in the mid-2000s. Lightspeed Champion was clearly written during the throes of a bitter breakup, and much of its lyrical content was intensely intimate, something reflected in most of the post-punk inspired acoustic music on the record.

At the time, it was clear that Hynes had songwriting gifts, but wasn’t yet able to reach mass appeal — likely due to the weighty subject matter. People wanted to hear Dev Hynes talk about his breakups about as much as they want to hear Tyler The Creator talk about how much he hates his dad: in small doses.

Over the last few years, Hynes honed his production and writing talents working with The Chemical Brothers, Florence and the Machine and brother-from-another-cardigan, Theophilus London, but storingthe best ideas for his latest solo project Blood Orange.

Conceptually, Blood Orange’s first release Coastal Grooves doesn’t congeal as well as Lightspeed Champion’s Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, but the songs themselves are light-years ahead. The Blood Orange LP is post-punk at its core, but Hynes sticks to electric rather than acoustic guitar for most of this release. Meanwhile, the production and recording — mostly handled in Hynes’ bedroom– is remarkably improved. The downside is that while Lightspeed Champion might have been too personal, Coastal Grooves sometimes doesn’t feel personal enough.

In a recent Dazed Digital interview, Hynes described his songs as intended for someone else to sing. As a result, his finest ideas for Blood Orange are often songs that people have essentially told him he shouldn’t give away. This might seem like an odd process for someone working on a solo record, but it works well for a handful of cuts, particularly the lively, uptempo single “Forget It”, which sounds perfectly boiled over time in a stew of pop and post-punk influences: everything from Prince to New Order.

Yet for much of the album, Hynes’ “hands-off” approach leaves him detached. The songs don’t stand out as a group as much as they do individually, and the better tracks like “The Complete Knock” directly expose the more bare, incomplete feel of tracks like “Instantly Blank (The Goodness)”, one that oddly feels like it’s begging you to find a nonexistent chorus.

For so much obvious improvement in songwriting and production on some of the songs, it’s unfortunate that others like “Instantly Blank (The Goodness)” and “Champagne Coast” don’t get as much attention. However, Haynes wins significant rewards in terms of experimentation, using the acoustics of the recording space and the guitar echo on “Can We Go Inside Now” to create a strange but enticing spaghetti western spin on post-punk.

Clearly, Haynes is after broader appeal, but it’s simultaneously difficult to select the album’s best songs when they hold little identity or back story. Understandably, it’s a difficult balancing act, trying to strike a chord with the listener through lyrical content, while still keeping their feet. Artists like Twin Shadow and Cut Copy have succeeded at this with undeniable efficacy, defining their legacy with uncompromising, indistinguishable concepts while still speaking to the listener on a very grounded, human level. It’s been over three years since the Lightspeed Champion album came out and Dev Hynes moved to New York. I’m sure he’s got at least a couple more good breakup stories for us.

MP3: Blood Orange- “Sutphin Boulevard”

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