Chances are you’ve heard Sky Ferreira’s “Everything is Embarrassing” or Solange’s “Losing You” at some point in the last year or two. With the Internet buzz surrounding the two tracks, they were somewhat inescapable in the indie music sphere.
But you might not know Dev Hynes, the rising producer behind both tracks. His hazy, wavy production helped to make those tracks as infectious as they are. Yet up until this point he’s remained relatively under the radar, releasing albums from his own projects on the sly while producing tracks for more “established” acts like Ferreira and Solange.
So Cupid Deluxe, the second album released under his Blood Orange moniker, was a chance for Hynes to finally give himself an identity beyond these singles. And Hynes absolutely succeeds, crafting a sugary collection of tunes that’s nigh but impossible to stop from worming into your ears.
Cupid Deluxe, on the surface, is consistent with what has become Hynes’ aesthetic as of late, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With Cupid Deluxe (and, to a certain extent, with “Everything is Embarrassing” or “Losing You”), Hynes seems stuck in the mid-to-late 1980s, giving everything the synth-y sheen that defined pop at that moment in time. “Uncle Ace” dials the reverb and echo up to 11, wrapping Hynes’ voice around a saccharine guitar lick and synthesizers that build a wall of sound around the composition.
“It Is What It Is” has a drum machine sucked out of a mid-career Peter Gabriel track and a collection of drip-drop synths and keyboards that give the track a tropical feel. It’s an aesthetic that could easily be caked in irony, but Hynes clearly adores the influences that have defined his sound; in his music, one can hear everyone from Afropop legend Fela Kuti to Phil Collins.
And thanks to an all-star list of guest musicians and Hynes’ willingness to experiment, this aesthetic never feels derivative or bland. “Chamakay,” the stellar opening track, features a winding vocal interplay between Hynes and Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek that, along with the haunting basslines and intimate lyrics, amounts to one of the year’s best (and sexiest) songs. “No Right Thing” is a much more muted track, bringing Dirty Projectors vocalist Dave Longstreth’s bright, nasal voice to the forefront (along with a plucky guitar lick) as a perfect complement to Hynes. “You’re Not Good Enough,” which features Samantha Urbani, is a perfect slice of hazy pop. “High Street” features rapper Skepta and “Clipped On” features Definitive Jux signee Despot in two bits of down-tempo old-school hip-hop. You’ll never see a more diverse list of guests this side of an El-P album, but Hynes’ skills as a producer have given him the ability to make these guests work for him, rather than vice versa.
For all of the tropical brightness that characterizes most of Cupid Deluxe, the album is, lyrically, relatively diverse. As sensual as “Chamakay” is, it’s a surprisingly melancholy piece; moments like “I’ll leave you with your feelings/I’ll leave you with your lies” establish a tale of separation rather than one of budding love, creating a fascinating contrast between lyric and music. “High Street” features Skepta rapping to his mother about his struggles to succeed, and “It Is What It Is” is an absolutely crushing tale of loneliness. These darker moments give Hynes a chance to establish pathos within his pop sound, and, what’s more, they make the album’s brightest moments,“No Right Thing” and “Time Will Tell” in particular, that much brighter.
Cupid Deluxe is undoubtedly not for everyone. It builds such a clear, unflinching aesthetic that anyone with a distaste for the thick, buttery sounds that Hynes has constructed probably won’t be able to latch on to this album. For everyone else, this album is a delight and a major step for an artist who has spent far too long out of the public eye. If you hadn’t heard of Dev Hynes before, you will now. With Cupid Deluxe, Dev Hynes isn’t just stepping into the spotlight, he’s rooting himself in it.