Devonte Hynes, AKA, Blood Orange, is an artist I discovered several days ago. Not knowing what to expect I was blown away by how beautiful and well made his newest album, “Negro Swan” turned out to be. It is a sixteen track project with a run time of 49 minutes. Initially released on August 24th, 2018; “Negro Swan” is a euphoric and blissful experience that has a deep message. With instrumentalism being seamlessly impressive, vocals that are powerful and soothing, and lyricism that speaks for communities struggling to fit in; this album was a pleasant surprise that surpassed any expectations I had before listening.
The album starts off with the song “Orlando”, a very funky song with bubbly synths, sustained electric piano, and soothing guitar licks that keep the listener focused on the variety of sounds that are composed. The vocals remind me of Stevie Wonder or Prince, but Hynes is in his own category of vocal range. The song has a great way of leading the listener into the album with a sense of inner peace and I remember thinking to myself, “oooh this is gonna be fun”. The song ends with a message about self-resolutions which relays across the album in various forms. This indicates that Hynes wants to emphasize loving ourselves no matter what we look like, what our culture is, and what anyone thinks about us. It is a beautiful and powerful message that stays constant throughout the album.
“Saint”, immediately sent me to a calming optimistic state of mind. Starting off with piano and vocals then a beat drop enters that instantly made my head bounce and smile throughout the whole song. There are many vocalists featured in this song including Aaron Maine, BEA1991, Hynes, and Adam Bainbridge. In a recent Pitchfork interview with Hynes, he says, “all those folks recorded in completely different places”. It took a long time for Hynes to work on this song and make it work well together; but, hard work makes a good product, and that is exactly what “Saint” turned out to be.
“Take Your Time”, in my opinion, has the rawest vocals by Hynes on the entire album. With very airy and spacey effects added to the background of the music, “Take Your Time” affects the mind in a beautifully euphoric way. The sounds of the flute are cascading along with the song making an ambiance that is extremely comforting. Overall this song ties in with the rest of the album very well. It compliments the optimistic and heavenly experience of listening to “Negro Swan”.
“Jewelry”, is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It embodies multiple themes of the album and had various distinctive parts within it: multiple rhythmic switch-ups, vocal diversity, and instrumental variety.
This video is so simple for such a complex song and it works perfectly. The point of this video seems to embody the pride and passion of the black community. It’s empowering, meaningful, and says what it needs to say.
Listening to “Family” and “Charcoal Baby” was my favorite moment in the album. The two tracks have a beautiful relationship with each other. “Family” is a speech from writer/activist Jenet Mock, discussing how a family is wherever we feel comfortable and true to yourself. Biology can be irrelevant to a family; a community of people with no judgment and all love is what a family truly is according to Mock and I agree with her. Seamlessly the track transitions to “Charcoal Baby” and at first listen I was thrilled. The slick guitar riff along with vocals and melodies resembling an Earth, Wind, & Fire style; put me in a mood so positive and hopeful that I remained in that state for the rest of the night.
“Negro Swan” was one of the best surprises in my discovery of any album I’ve been unaware of. The style of music fit into a genre that brought me a feeling of nostalgia and positivity. The complexity of each song truly impressed me and although I did not describe every track on the album; I highly recommend listening to every single song. I look forward to listening to more projects from Blood Orange in the future and I will make sure I listen to his previous albums. Finding music like this strengthens my hope for modern music culture and makes me optimistic that more impressive and note-worthy projects will gain mainstream attention.
Album Review By: Douglas Davies