Blood Orange - 'Negro Swan' Album Review
Devonté Hynes has always been a figure of intrigue with pretty much everything he puts out under the Blood Orange name. From his psychedelic sound to his stunning visuals, he never disappoints and after 2016's Freetown Sound, a brilliant exercise in synth pop with a thematic focus on racial and homophobic issues, I felt like the London-based artist had finally caught the attention of the world stage. On his newest album, Negro Swan, Hynes perfects this dreamlike sound in a series of personal vignettes that emphasise not only black excellence but his self-described black depression.
I am of course in no position to review this album for it's messages, these are topics that I cannot and will not ever be able to relate to. What I can say is how incredibly personal and intimate this album feels in the way it portrays this messages, with Hynes using voice recordings that sound like they were taken right off the street like on the intro to the beautiful 'Jewelry'. In this way, Hynes expresses the black experience in a way that feels completely compelling and natural as these voice notes flow throughout the album making the track to track experience near-seamless. Sonically, the album stays within it's synth-pop roots throughout the tracklist with occasional dips into Funk and R&B like on the intro track 'Orlando' or Hip-Hop with the A$AP Rocky featuring 'Chewing Gum'.
Unfortunately, despite these departures, this musical style begins to get stagnant as the album progresses as you start to hear the same synths and the same drum patterns re-used. This isn't to say that there aren't highlights within this sound, as songs like 'Jewelry', 'Charcoal Baby' and 'Nappy Wonder' prove with their distinctive hooks and groovy instrumentals. This stagnant sound is luckily swept under the rug as Hynes' vocals take centre stage, sounding on top form throughout the album. The incredible 'Take Your Time' shows off his vocal range, featuring one of the most beautiful and low-key instrumentals on the album accompanying Hynes' haunting voice. And despite the somewhat repetitive sound, the album never feels like a drag to listen to, primarily because of Devonté's voice and what he has to say with it.
Taking notes from Frank Ocean's legendary Blonde, Negro Swan portrays the 'corners of black existence' as well as the 'anxieties of queer/people of colour' as he put it himself in an interview with Pitchfork Media. The album explores black life in the day to day, exploring the pressures and anxiety put on the individual rather than the race as a whole. In this way, despite not being able to relate to any of these issues as a white, privileged, straight male, Devonté's near-conversational and minimalist approach is enchanting without being condescending to black issues. Despite some repetitive sounds, Negro Swan is Blood Orange's most low-key and minimal sounding album to date, putting emphasis on what he has to say and the stunning vocals he uses to express them.
Check out the album in full below: