The Many Sides of Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes

Laura Studarus

By Laura Studarus

on 11.27.13 in Spotlights

Britain born, New York-based singer/songwriter Dev Hynes has always carried himself with an idiosyncratic grace that suggests that he’s more than capable of penning a mainstream hit. But where would the fun in that be? Hopscotching across sounds, from dance-punk as Test Icicles, to confessional folk balladeer, to positioning himself as a next-generation Prince with the R&B-leaning project Blood Orange, Hynes has approached with each of his musical incarnations with an outsider’s ear and a “feet first” mentality.

It’s his left-of-center approach to music that’s transformed Hynes from genre-skipping lone wolf to in-demand collaborator, his list of credits stretched across so many bands and projects it’s a small wonder he has time to release any work of his own. From the shadowy electro of Sky Ferreira’s “Everything is Embarrassing,” to the bruised hearts and broken strings of jangle-pop outfit Bleeding Knees Club, eMusic’s Laura Studarus has assembled 10 of Hynes’s finest career moments in writing, producing, remixing, and leading his talents in support of other people’s work.

Sky Ferreira, “Everything is Embarrassing”

Having worked his way through several different monikers and styles (dance punk, heartbroken folkie, and Prince-influenced R&B lothario among them), it makes sense that Hynes would be pals with Sky Ferreira — a singer whose artistic and personal CV already had multiple pages before the release of her first full-length. Thankfully both musicians were on the same page for this standout single from Ferreira’s 2012 Ghost EP. From the spiky bass to the romantic angst, “Everything is Embarrassing” is a song that could easily be graphed onto Hynes’s Blood Orange debut, Coastal Grooves.

Solange, “Losing You”

Solange may croon like a traditional R&B/pop princess in the making, but in handling production duties for her 2012 EP True, Haynes made sure to keep things weird, transforming the EP into something closer to outsider art than Motown. “Losing You” features a Lynchian undercurrent: Just another slick pop breakup song, nothing to see here people—Wait. What exactly is making those crunchy, squealing backbeats? (Cue fever dream sequence.)

Florence and the Machine, “Bird Song”
Role: Writer

Last year, Florence Welch and Dev Hynes revealed that they’re working on a “strange album” of collaborative material. No word yet on release date, but for the time being we have “Bird Song” a b-side that the pair wrote for Welch’s 2011 debut Lungs. Together, Welch and Hynes set aside their preoccupations with love and heartbreak — the result was a dark song about being driven to violence by an errant songbird, delivered in gospel-style swing.

Bleeding Knees Club, “Nothing to Do”

An exercise in jangle-pop guitar and raw nerves that clocks in just under two minutes, one would be hard-pressed to believe that “Nothing to Do” has, well, anything to do with Hynes. Recently, Hynes expressed that he’d hate for someone to keep buying his music simply because they liked what he’s done in the past. Love or hate it, his production work with Bleeding Knees Club proves the same point, that Hynes is not interested in merely repeating formulas.

The Chemical Brothers, “All Rights Reversed”
Arrangements, guest musician

“All Rights Reversed” is a big beat electronic dance song. Arranged by Hynes and featuring the murmur-to-a-chant vocals of the Klaxons, this is the musician dipping out of his comfort zone (nary a guitar in sight) without losing his trademark intensity. Call it hiding in plain view.

Nedelle Torrisi, “I Love Thousands Every Summer”
Co-writer, guitarist, guest musician

Nedelle Torrisi’s delicate soprano graced Hynes’s first Blood Orange album, and on her self-titled debut (she previously fronted twisted art-pop trio Cryptacize), Hynes returns the favor, both writing and playing guitar on the ethereal ode to fleeting seasonal romance, “I Love Thousands Every Summer.” A wisp of a song that lingers like a stolen kiss, this is Hynes as the ultimate background player, supporting — but never overwhelming — his leading lady with a series of barely-there funk licks.

Basement Jaxx, “My Turn”
Guest vocalist

Hynes moves through this string-driven Scars track with a commanding vocal swagger. It takes a strong vocalist to overcome a song full of fart-like electronic beats, and an even stronger actor to stand out in a video featuring dancing cartoon bears and questionable wardrobe choices (oversized hats, multi-toned bowtie). Still, the absurdity can’t hide the fact that even when someone else is driving the ship, Hynes is always a hair’s breadth away from commandeering the vessel with just gravely, charismatic baritone.

Kavinsky, “ProtoVision (Blood Orange remix)”

A skilled remixer, Hynes successfully remakes the Drive-soundtrack musician over in his own image. The female vocals have an extra layer of reverb, the beats are bigger, and the mood is more late night lonely than sinister. By the time the Prince-like guitar riff kicks in, hitting the road with Hynes as a co-pilot doesn’t sound like such a crazy idea.

Lana Del Rey, “Blue Jeans (Blood Orange remix)”

Like Hynes, Lana Del Rey has a taste for melodrama. On his remix for Born to Die cut “Blue Jeans” Hynes deftly enters the chanteuse’s world of Gatsby-like extravagance. Emptying the track of its overstuffed instrumentation and replacing it with a streamlined electronic beat, the Blood Orange remix of “Blue Jeans” amplifies both the tune’s inherit anguish and Del Rey’s sex kitten vocals.

Theophilus London, “Flying Overseas”
Guest vocalist

In 2011, Hynes and pal/collaborator Solange joined rapper Theophilus London for the Green Label single, “Flying Overseas.” Singing and humming against a steel-drum beat, Hynes sounds ready for a beach vacation. It’s still a long way from Margaritaville, but we’d certainly be up for sharing a piña colada.