Last week, the British style magazine Dazed & Confused quoted Devonté Hynes as saying that none of the songs he’d apparently been asked to write for Britney Spears’ upcoming album had made the cut.
As demonstrated by his recent work with Sky Ferreira, Solange and the English girl group MKS -- all of whom have moved through a number of styles on their way to music they present as truth -- Hynes the collaborator specializes in facilitating self-discovery (or at least its illusion). He might’ve been the guy to help steer Spears toward another “Piece of Me.”
Hynes developed this skill on himself. In addition to his songwriting and producing gigs, the 27-year-old currently makes his own records under the name Blood Orange. But that’s just the latest in a series of projects -- along with Test Icicles and Lightspeed Champion -- that represents a slow march inward.
“Cupid Deluxe” is the new Blood Orange album, and though Hynes sings and plays guitar, bass, keyboards and drums (as he did on 2011’s “Coastal Grooves”), it’s not strictly a solo effort. Hip-hop producer Clams Casino and David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors show up in “No Right Thing,” while female vocalists including Samantha Urbani and Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek duet with Hynes throughout; two rappers, Despot and Skepta, contribute guest verses as well.
Yet with its fussy textures and lovelorn introspection, the music here feels firmly like the product of a single mind.
Often, Hynes sounds like he’s trying to get to the bottom of the 1980s fixation coursing through so much indie-aligned pop and rock right now, working airy, mournful vamps for long stretches to understand the nostalgia they’re triggering.
It’s likely an especially complicated swirl of associations for Hynes, who was born in Texas, grew up in England and now lives in New York. Maybe that background is what led to a song as weirdly hybridized as “Uncle Ace,” which layers undulating, Philip Glass-style woodwinds over a taut disco groove, or to his left-field cover of “I Can Only Disappoint U” by the C-list Britpop band Mansun.
He doesn’t try to conceal the seams between these ideas, either.
“Cupid Deluxe” is peppered with bits of studio chatter and the clicking and buzzing of recording equipment, as though Hynes were trying to let the listener in on his process; in “High Street,” Skepta even raps about a cassette player chewing up his tape.
But the brainy record-nerd stuff is just a delivery device for emotions that can border on the maudlin. (Last month, Hynes tweeted that he’d almost cried on an airplane while listening to “Headlights,” by far the most sentimental track on Eminem’s new album.)
He’s singing about opening himself up to heartache, then savoring it once it comes, and that amounts to wallowing even with the presence of some extremely funky slap bass.
Is that a turn-off? It evidently was for Britney. But there’s a bravery to Hynes’ vulnerability here. He finds what he’s looking for, and he doesn’t flinch.