Like the application of an Instagram filter, Dev Hynes (aka the artist formerly known Lightspeed Champion and ex-member of Test Icicles) overlays the songs of his work as Blood Orange with emotions that are just removed from reality — a bit darker, a bit sexier and certainly more dramatic than anything you’re likely to experience on the average night out. The Prince comparisons he’s garnered in the last few years are apt. On 2011′s Costal Grooves, his first album under the moniker, Hynes made a strong case for reframing The Purple One’s genre-gobbling blend of R&B, pop and disco through a musical misfit’s lens. On new album Cupid Deluxe, Hynes teases out the seductive elements of his sound even further, peppering songs about broken hearts, crushed dreams and dejected outsiders with sensual grooves. (See: the slick jazz sax and faux French-accented spoken word of “Chosen.”) The unexpected contrast deftly removes him from every other Timberlake-come-lately.
Last year, Hynes produced Solange’s candy-coated pop EP True. Clearly at home writing for female voices (he also penned the Sky Ferreira single “Everything is Embarrassing”), on Cupid Hynes invites Friends frontwoman Samantha Urbani to the party. Her lithe soprano (a kissing cousin to Solange’s graceful warble) is a perfect foil for Hynes’s glossy synths and lumbering bass lines — all deployed with a left-of-center sensibility. It’s her sugar-and-spice presence on album centerpiece “You’re Not Good Enough” that negates the sting of the line “I never was in love/ you know that you were never good enough” — the most cutting of barbs on an album that travels to the darkest corners of love and heartbreak.
Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth, Kindness’s Adam Bainbridge and Clams Casino also provide welcome assists, all integrating into Hynes’s dichotomous worldview with ease. But no album guest understands Blood Orange’s shadow-riddled vocabulary quite like Caroline Polachek. The Chairlift frontwoman duets with Hynes of the minimal album single “Chamakay,” their slow-motion flirt providing the song’s lavish melody against light dusting of percussion. But despite all the help from Hynes’s friends, Cupid Deluxe is at the heart a solo endeavor, the clear-cut vision of a musician who tips his hat to R&B tropes, even as he’s busy re-appropriating them to suit his own means.