Soothing with intense melancholia and insistent cadence, Blood Orange embodies heartache on his latest EP Four Songs.
After the critical acclaim of his mixtape Angel’s Pulse, the artist, born Devonté Hynes, retreated from thriving in the neo-soul world to find solace in other entertainment avenues. On the HBO Original “We Are Who We Are,” director Luca Guadagnino enlisted Hynes’ R&B intelligence to culminate coming-of-age themes for the television mini-series; here, he boomed with electronic sounds and calmed audiences with his signature tune “Time Will Tell.”
Hynes’ musical passion bleeds into live productions as well, where his performance art lands in the theater. Complimenting the Los Angeles Philharmonic this summer, he laced classical pieces with a solemn tone and poetic vision. Critics hailed his craft as compelling — an immense testament to his deviation as an artist.
Vast in nature, his diverse palate resulted in his newest EP. Four Songs filters his classic R&B flair through the somber sound of his classical music and film production ventures. Where on his last records he selected bursting electronics and shimmering melodies, he chooses whispering vocals and calm distress on this recent release.
Hynes’ production elicits saccharine love and emotion, but his vocals indicate an unsatisfied desire. Dissimilar to the funk dance of Coastal Grooves and historical nuances of Freetown Sound, this EP — with his poeticism, his beats, his intonation — identifies and understands the pain of human solitude.
“Jesus Freak Lighter,” the EP’s opener and first single, blares with an enigmatic introduction. Electronic noises whirl in circles while pulsing bass lines glide on the verses. Blood Orange sings of an intense chimera, a vision he — for no reason other than his insecurities — cannot reach. The chorus lingers with the line “Living in my head / Photo fantasy,” reminding listeners of the shared guilt in failing to achieve an aspiration or delusional dream.
On the more structural “Something You Know,” however, he leans into his roots with traditional R&B sounds. It fuses traditional songwriting with neo-soul beats, a familiar nod to his 2013 album Cupid Deluxe. But just as he returns to form, the artist switches to sweeter melodies. Amid lush and poppier composition, an unassured voice trembles “Everything is absurd / extended from your own birth” at the chorus.
Underneath the production subsists an emotive, lingering pain in the lyrics. Circular in form and in cadence, this central line connects listeners to their internal struggles — whether they be familial, mental or physical. Similar to an old guide, someone who is much more mature and worldly, his voice reminds one not to feel alone in their battles.
In the same vein of comfort, “Wish” soars as the EP’s main standout. Blood Orange commands the floor, blaring the production with bustling basslines. The synths mirror the human heartbeat and calls for attention; his words calm with consolation. Scenes of him waiting on someone — an old friend or lover — haunt the verses, his naivete warning other romantics not to lean on their partner. When the narrative ends, and no one comes around, the line “Wish it all went away” wails in a continuum and leaves listeners longing from the margins. Falling after “Something You Know,” the two songs contribute to the same influence: an all-consuming but calming voice in times of reassurance.
Not as evocative, though, is “Relax and Run.” While the production is stellar as usual, Hynes fails to connect with the featured artists, Erika de Casier and Eva Tolkin. Contrasting the anecdotes of isolation on the EP’s last three tunes, the vocals feel cold and distant. The three voices diminish one another, never reaching the same tenderness Blood Orange accomplishes solo. Still, the EP’s overall emotional gravity overcomes this singular ineffective collaboration.
Although not as ambitious as the fabling records of Blood Orange’s acclaim, Four Songs will hold dedicated fans and critics over before his next album release. It hints at an even further evolution in his career, an emotive change in the tonal tides of his music. He is dimming the radiance — the bright neons of the Cupid Deluxe and Angel’s Pulse covers — and chasing the gloom.