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