Blood Orange, 'Cupid Deluxe' review

3 stars (out of 4)

Dev Hynes, the one-man band behind Blood Orange, is only 27, but he’s already spent a decade breaking out of stylistic boxes. He’s stirred up punky brio with U.K. band Test Icicles, written for rave giants Chemical Brothers and art-pop chanteuse Florence + the Machine, and ventured into lushly orchestrated introspection with Lightspeed Champion. As a producer, he’s given a twist to new wave and R&B with Sky Ferreira and Solange.

On his second album as Blood Orange, “Cupid Deluxe” (Domino), Hynes drapes late-night anxiety over crisp rhythm tracks – a contrast that suggests a bustling, 24-hour cityscape filled with lonely drifters and misfits. The churning beats and clipped guitars of “Uncle Ace” suggests a subway train at 3 a.m., a needy voice acknowledging, “I’ve lost my sense of ‘where’.”

The setting is New York, and the soundtrack drifts between nostalgic, ‘80s signifiers -- the narrator in “High Street” is annoyed by a faulty cassette player -- and something a good deal less comforting. Smarmy period clichés sometimes intrude: saxophone oozes over reverbing electro-beats on “Chosen.” But then a ghostly vocal restores the shiver-inducing vibe. The classic hip-hop drum loop in “Clipped On” dissolves into an obsessive mantra, “All I do is think about you.”

It’s an atmosphere soaked in deceptively mellow and melancholy neo-soul, another take on the worlds created by Sade’s whispered regrets and the Weeknd’s decadent obsessions. Like these artists, Hynes values rhythms that sway, but sings in a voice that sounds far removed from the dancefloor. As he croons in “It is What it Is,” “You make me think I’m alive, when I’m alone.”

Best songs of 2014 so far

More music