On record – Devonté Hynes & Third Coast Percussion – Fields (Cedille Records)

Devonté Hynes
For All Its Fury
Perfectly Voiceless
There Was Nothing

Devonté Hynes and Third Coast Percussion

Cedille Records CDR 90000 192 [60’49”]

Producer Jesse Lewis
Engineer Kyle Pyke

Recorded 17-20 July 2018, Chicago Recording Company & 13-14 October 2018 (Electrical Audio)

Written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

It has become quite a challenge keeping track of Devonté Hynes’ musical activities of late. While releasing a mixtape of quality offshoots from his Blood Orange project (reviewed on Arcana here), he has also released the soundtrack to Queen & Slim. With those in the can, there was always a danger this set of compositions, his most ‘classical’ opus to date, would fall below the radar. Indeed it did on its release in October – but Arcana decided to pick it up and write about it!

There are three pieces here – the substantial For All Its Fury and two shorter pieces, Perfectly Voiceless and There Was Nothing. Hynes wrote them on a Digital Audio Workstation, sending them to Third Coast Percussion for arrangement and orchestration, before meeting up with them to record the works in the second half of 2018. All three pieces have their roots in dance, and were originally written for choreography by the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago company.

What’s the music like?

Accomplished, stylish and with a few surprises in store – but Hynes’ music needs the chance to establish itself. Those familiar with his language might expect his forays into longer compositions to be relatively simple in content, but Fields shows that not to be the case. Instead he takes his lead from the shorter form songs for Blood Orange, picking motifs and textures with the flexibility to blossom into something more substantial.

Reach and Blur, the first two movements of For All Its Fury, set out a picture of cloudy ambience, reminding us of Hynes’ love of Debussy. Only in Coil does the music really begin to flex its muscles. This takes place through a deceptively simple marimba riff that Hynes takes through a number of settings and developments. The murky ambience returns, with warm synthesizer chords, and the music – though sonically attractive – threatens to lose its direction.

Gather, the seventh section, restores the momentum with busy xylophones and chimes, creating a lovely space with bowed marimbas, after which the music floats and creates an enchanting world with the chimes of Tremble. Those chimes spill over into the treble-rich Cradle, before Hynes starts to work in the lower reaches and rich sonority of the marimba sound. This section – Press – generates the most energy, before evaporating into the ambient wash of Fields itself, which then builds to a substantial and satisfying finish.

The other two pieces are self-contained. Though their titles indicate they will be lacking, Perfectly Voiceless and There Was Nothing do have some appealing music. The former busily gets on with creating loops and developing them, though doesn’t quite break free of the influence of Philip Glass. The instrumental colours are again really attractive, and the surrounding musical ambience is rather beautiful, with the shrill treble of chimes complemented by rich, lower marimba writing. There is a sense of petering out at the end, however.

There Was Nothing starts with more soft, starry-eyed ambience, the colours familiar from the other pieces, but there is more evidence of electronic manipulation here with a warm backdrop to the fluttering marimba figures. There is a less obvious shape to this piece – inevitably, given the title – but it has a broader set of textures which are charming on headphones.

Does it all work?

Most of the time. On occasion it feels as though Hynes’ music loses its sense of direction, but given the context of the pieces they serve their brief well. Fields is certainly an appealing album to listen to for its warm colours and consonant harmonies, and Hynes shows enough technique in his mastering of percussion instruments to suggest there is a lot more potential here.

Is it recommended?

Yes. If you’ve followed Hynes’s various pseudonyms, but especially Blood Orange, you will enjoy the warm colours presented by Fields. Hynes’ understated and poignant vocals may be missing, as well as an electronic drum kit, but his next level of expression – analogue percussion instruments – serve him well.

There is however the nagging feeling that these are works in the early stages of progress, but that in itself is intriguing. It will be very interesting to follow where Hynes goes next, and how his obvious talents are harnessed.

Listen

Buy

You can read more about Fields at the Cedille website, together with options for purchasing on analogue and digital formats

On record – Devonté Hynes: Queen & Slim: Original Motion Picture Score (Domino)

Written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

It has been quite a year for Devonté Hynes. While keeping his Blood Orange pop persona very much in the foreground through touring and the new Angel’s Pulse mixtape, he has really furthered his ambitions to be a composer of soundtrack and ultimately classical material. The latter projects have borne fruit with the Third Coast Percussion Ensemble, but the soundtrack ventures have also progressed with this, his second soundtrack commission after Palo Alto, completed for Gia Coppola in 2013.

Directed by Melina Matsoukas to a script from Lena Waithe, Queen & Slim has been well-received, a romantic drama with an undoubtedly tragic overtone. Without giving away too much of the plot, that is the loose blueprint from which Hynes’ score evolves.

What’s the music like?

With 20 tracks spread over little more than 36 minutes, it is perhaps inevitable that Queen & Slim feels a little fragmented at times. Yet as Hynes has already shown us in his pop music that he is capable of setting a scene with very little padding to his structures, and so it proves here.

Kids may be just over a minute but even in that time it shows a tender heart to its string scoring. This cuts to the rather more sombre piano of Hair, but here too Hynes expands the sound with a doleful saxophone. Opening then shows his ease with analogue or digital sources, teasing out threat-ridden music with little more than dissonant drones and a bass drum.

Of the more substantial numbers on the soundtrack most stick in the memory. A Couple Deer has a lovely calming sonority, while Love Theme makes much from little material, not greatly substantial but hitting the right emotional spot.

Slim Calls Home spreads out its perspective to big reverberation but then Uncle’s House reintroduces the ominous drums of Opening, which Get Upstairs and Start The Car take a step further. Hynes has a distinctive way of pointing his strings and the textures bode ill rather than good.

Sneak Out is perhaps the most distinctive and unnerving track of all, and at four minutes has time to develop. It begins with rough tremolos from solo string instruments that provide eerie outlines rather than solid shapes, the uneasy atmosphere not helped by the introduction of a wavering bass line.

A resolution is ultimately found, but despite its initially consonant chords the music of Arrival is bittersweet, with booming percussion and string-based dissonances returning to cloud the picture. The closing track Kissed All Your Scars remains affected by this but provides more respite.

Some of the snippets of music are little more than descriptive postcards in the style of Max Richter, forming briefly sketched portraits but unable to say much more than that in half a minute. They do still show Hynes’ deft way with scoring, however.

Does it all work?

Yes, largely. Some of the promising material is frustratingly short but necessarily so, meaning the listener has to deal with occasionally being sold short when enjoyable scenes or moods move on abruptly.

With that taken in to account, Hynes sets his scenes with very little fuss and plenty of flair. As an orchestrator he is of the ‘less is more’ approach, which gives him plenty of room for manoeuvre.

Is it recommended?

Yes. If you are following Hynes’ work on all fronts then this will be essential listening, and it serves as an exciting pointer to show where he might go next. His is one of the most inquisitive minds in music currently, and the ease with which he moves across genres is rare indeed. It will be interesting to see if he moves on to bigger structures in the future.

Stream

Buy

You can purchase this release from the Domino website

Switched On – Blood Orange: Angel’s Pulse mixtape (Domino)

Blood Orange Angel’s Pulse mixtape (Domino)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Ahead of his first foray into classical waters with Third Coast Percussion, Devonte Hynes – the man behind Blood Orange – releases a companion piece to last year’s Negro Swan album. It is a habit the producer has developed, making a set of ‘offcuts’ available to friends in the wake of a bigger release, but given that in his own words ‘I’m older now though, and life is unpredictable and terrifying’, he has made it available to the wider public.

What’s the music like?

Cool and compact, but emotional too. Hynes has always possessed the knack of expressing himself keenly through music that does not have to be loud or brash, and the level of Angel’s Pulse even drops to a murmur at times. In doing so it draws the listener in, through songs that never outstay their welcome. Of the 14 tracks here, only two are over three minutes in length.

Musically the mood is consistent with Negro Swan but has more room in its texture – which takes it closer to the 2016 album Freetown Sound. Cool soul and funk mix freely, with the odd hint of West Coast rock. Textures are dreamy but lyrics are on point.

Taking individual tracks, the sonorous speaking voice on Berlin comes from Ian Isiah, with Porches also contributing – as with Freetown Sound, the guests easily accommodated into the album. BennY RevivaL contributes an urgent rap on Seven Hours Pt.1, while Birmingham brings a flourish from vocalist Kelsey Lu. Meanwhile Toro y Moi brings a sense of yearning to Dark & Handsome, at which point the album behaves like a radio station, switching with background fuzz to Benzo, which evokes Hynes’ home city of New York through a soft, nocturnal sax. Baby Florence (Figure) crackles with a sudden momentum from its samba-like beat.

Some of the songs on Angel’s Pulse feel half finished, but the mixing effect links them seamlessly. If anything their shorter form makes it easier for the listener to get to their essence.

Does it all work?

Yes. While not as concentrated a listen as the Freetown Sound and Negro Swan albums, Angel’s Pulse does still hang together beautifully. There is perhaps room for the songs to have been further developed, but if anything this heightens their immediacy.

Is it recommended?

Yes – followers of Hynes and Blood Orange will lap it up, while looking forward with great intrigue to the Third Coast Percussion collaboration Fields, due for release on the Cedille label on October 11.

Stream

Buy