Dev Hynes, a.k.a. Blood Orange, is a British singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, composer, and producer. He has written songs for well known pop artists such as Tinashe, Solange Knowles, Sky Ferreira, FKA twigs, Florence and the Machine, Carly Rae Jepsen, The Chemical Brothers and Kylie Minogue, but it’s his moniker and self-creating outlet of Blood Orange that lets him step out into the spotlight himself.
2013’s Cupid Deluxe received a lot of praise from critics, with Pitchfork ranking it among the top 100 albums of the decade so far, but to me it just sounded like pop music. Pop music with a theme of transitions and life changing events, something that’s been done over and over again, has to be done masterfully, and possibly sheds some new light on a very well known and relatable topic. Cupid Deluxe didn’t do that for me. Besides, “3005” by Childish Gambino was all I could listen to since it came out a month before Dev Hynes released Cupid Deluxe. It sounded like pop music, and it sounded like pop music that I could forget easily.
Freetown Sound, like its predecessor, suffers a similar fate. Hynes does go for a better theme this time around however, stating that the album is intended for those who have been told they were “not black enough, too black, too queer, or not queer the right way,” but my idea of the “Sound of Identity,” the name of the New Yorker piece in which the quote is from, doesn’t sound like conformity. To me, Freetown Sound means to say a lot, but in all actuality it comes up short, mostly comprised of pop-conformed mushy-gush that could have been on the next Madonna or Carly Rae Jepsen record. “But You,” a track whose chorus continually informs me: “you are special in your own way,” is one for the “*face-palm*, are you kidding me?” books.
What starts off amazingly with “By Ourselves,” a Curtis Mayfield sampling, saxophone wailing, feminist slam poem of an intro, I believed what everyone and critics had been telling me; that Freetown Sound was an important album. When the programmed drums and bright synths pop into track 2 immediately after however, followed by 50-minutes of unrelenting, dull pop music, I understood the record’s main fault. Freetown Sound isn’t an important record, it’s an important idea.
Dev Hynes is trying to use pop music to reach his audience, and in writing what sounds like the worst Michael Jackson songs imaginable, his message doesn’t hit correctly. Instead, it comes off way too conceived, and the message lacks the support it needs. Most of the “important” aspects are showcased through skits and interlude, spoken from other artists such as Vince Staples on “Hands Up,” De La Soul on “Thank You,” Ta-Nehisi Coates on “Love Ya,” and the fantastic Ashlee Haze on “By Ourselves.” The message only comes from the subliminal messages of the record, while Dev puts out passively entertaining pop music. Freetown Sound stands for amazing ideas, but without the interludes and skits, you would never know that they were there.