Devonte´ Hynes’ musical career has been one of reinvention. Some of you might remember the humorously named, short lived dance-punk band Test Icicles, or more likely his acclaimed solo project Lightspeed Champion – both of which are past manifestations of Hyne’s career and parts of his life. More recently, Hynes’ traded Lightspeed’s folk-pop stylings for the new wave funk for 2011’s Coastal Grooves which he released under his newest pseudonym of Blood Orange. Hynes’ latest offering through Blood Orange is the gorgeously inviting, and genuinely heartbreaking Cupid Deluxe. Influenced in large by Paris is Burning, the poignant and brilliant documentary of New York’s gay and transgendered ballroom culture of the 1980s, a subject which has manifested itself in the music of many a Manhattanite from Lady Gaga to Madonna. But where artists like Azealia Banks rap about ballroom fierceness, Blood Orange exposes the elements of the film which focus on the yearning for acceptance, fierce resilience and heartache.
Cupid Deluxe is an album for the vagabonds, for the disenchanted, and the heartbroken; thick with longing and at its heart, painfully human, it’s brimming with melancholy; “Are you the one who breaks my, heart out of my chest?” bemoans Hynes in the passionate, tender opening track Chamakay, before adjusting to the vibrantly disco-esque, yet paradoxically downcast and solemn You’re Not Good Enough; an ambiguous and haunting inward examination of self-worth and non-acceptance.
Cupid Deluxe’s central spotlight is on an array of characters who inhabit NYC’s underground, dejected LGBT community, many of whom have been ejected from the homes and hearts of loved ones. The 80s disco influences through Uncle Ace echo back to a time when the community flourished, supporting each other through the mutual pain and abandonment of being societies rejected ‘other.’ We are taken deep into this word through Hyne’s wounded and evocative lyrics, combined with smokey saxophone, slick guitar and new wave synth to create an atmosphere which is representative of both the glittering heights of the Manhattan skyline, and the thousands of displaced living in it’s underbelly.
Hynes is in control of every aspect of the album, from beginning to end every beat is spot on, and every note precise. However one of the great strengths of Cupid Deluxe lies in the variety of guest voices. “No one’s waiting for you anyway so don’t be stressed now/Even if it’s something you’ve had your eye on, it is what it is” pipes the melancholy vocals of Friends front woman, and girlfriend, Samantha Urbani. Clipped On and High Street (a little homage to his East London roots) feature segments from NYC rapper Despot and London-based rapper Skepta, who break up the new wave, 80s undercurrent of each track. The whole album features a kaleidoscope of guest musicians, which all offer something different and collectively support and enhance the vision which Blood Orange has generated.
We finish where we began, Time Will Tell loops round and echoes lyrics from the first half of the album. It’s the final heartbreak, as the slick disco guitar finally fades to silence. Hynes has created a rich, moving and earnestly, brilliantly human record, one which echoes that ballroom realness in such a painfully unsheltered way. If there is one record I would recommend you listen to alone, from start to finish, to contemplate and relate to in your own personal way, I would say listen to Cupid Deluxe.