ALBUM: Blood Orange – ‘Negro Swan’


British artist, Dev Hynes releases his fourth studio album as Blood Orange with Negro Swan. Hynes describes the record as “an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of colour”.

Dev Hynes has unknowingly become a vital attribute to the music industry; with another two albums under his previous moniker, Lightspeed Champion. Negro Swan was entirely written and produced by Hynes, with all 17 tracks being exactly how he envisioned the record to be.

With a vast array of collaborations, the most poignant feature is Janet Mock (writer, TV host and transgender activist), who narrates the record. Negro Swan is only to be listened to in full and unshuffled, in order to truly experience the masterpiece that Hynes has created; each track sets up the next and compliments the last.

‘Orlando’ introduces the listener softly into what turns out to be quite a dark record by Blood Orange. The track opens with atmospheric noises of a city life (most likely his newly adopted home, New York) before a funky beat fades, followed by Dev’s soulful vocals that fill your ears. “First kiss was the floor” he repeats, referring to a childhood of being bullied.

‘Saint’ takes a jazz inspired turn, with saxophone interjections combined with synth-drums and piano, this track furthers the initial tone set by ‘Orlando’. Taking a slow, darker turn towards the end, ‘Saint’ bleeds into ‘Take Your Time’ slowing down the pace of the entire album drastically after only three songs. Inspired by Robert Wyatt’s Old Rottenhat, ‘Take Your Time’ is primarily keyboards and vocals; the rawest track on the record.

The second single to be released prior to Negro Swan, ‘Jewelry’, holds a 40-second motivational monologue by Janet Rock over soft brass and synth. The track progresses into a funkier beat still holding that same tone of self-empowerment in the lyrics, “I’m feeling myself”.

‘Chewing Gum’ is the most hip-hop track on the record, featuring A$AP Rocky and Project Pat. The song has a popular trap synthetic-drum beat that is softened down with keys; with sexual references used to metaphorically discuss the feeling of exhaustion with people.

The Internet’s Steve Lacy takes to the keys for ‘Out of Your League’ on this track with Dev Hynes. Acquiring a Prince-like introduction of distilled keys, this song is slightly more upbeat and holds a kind of urgency with an abrupt siren ending.

The overall tone of this album is pretty melancholic with the lyrics and musical arrangement, it certainly shows a more personal side to Blood Orange that we have never seen before in Dev’s projects. It carries a feeling of hope and seeing the light in the darkness through seventeen perfectly crafted tracks crossing genres with jazz, trap, R&B and soul.

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Harriet Willis
Freelance music writer and media graduate. Dreaming of an Instagram worthy house in CA.
Harriet Willis

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