In recent times I seem to be putting Scritti Politti into Tiny Mix Tapes’ “Others” section with a fair amount of frequency, and this may suggest not only my music taste as manifest in review choices, but also the current trend toward 80s influences in terms of creamy falsetto, synth of both the pop and funk variety, and of course our old and influential friend post-punk. In the music of Devonté Hynes, however, we see not only a sonic resemblance but also a trajectory that has something in common with Green Gartside, in the move from the abrasive, thrashy post-punk of the unfortunately named Test Icicles, to the smooth-surfaced but interesting pop of Blood Orange (via the indie pop/rock of Lightspeed Champion).
It’s smooth style that Coastal Grooves provides in spades — but there is also a musical diversity here that is underpinned by the scratchy guitars, synth, and funky basslines of the place where post-punk meets Prince-era synth funk. We see other influences, too — for example, the surf/Western noir of “Can We Go Inside Now,” or the Bryan Ferry-channelling “Sutphin Boulevard.” And indeed, one can imagine yuppies snorting coke and seducing each other to the strains of tracks with names like “Champagne Coast.” Hynes’ voice is velvety, but with a tone of mournful uncertainty that reflects the evocative but unoriginal lyrical content (“Come into my bedroom,” anyone?). It’s this evocation of atmosphere that holds the album’s musical eclecticisms together in a (reasonably) coherent whole, and that provides the strongest moments — as in “The Complete Knock,” with its gentle refrain “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Hynes’ new moniker, Blood Orange, suggests both a lushness and a hint of the sinister, as does the sleazy cover art. But that darkness, even in the form of transgression, never materializes (despite the gender-bends of tracks like “S’Cooled”). In terms of synth-R&B, Hynes could be conceptualised as day to The Weeknd’s night, the citrus before the shot. In this sense, despite the gratification provided by Hynes’ obvious pop chops, there is a nagging ambience here consisting (or not consisting) in a lack of substance: shallowness as the flipside of sophistication. As a retro endeavor, this atmosphere may be lauded for its chronicity, but it keeps Coastal Grooves from scaling the memorable heights of synthed-up crooners straddling the art/pop divide (the likes of Bryan Ferry or Donald Fagen). You may not be able to get blood from a stone, but that doesn’t mean that you can get it from an orange. Nonetheless, that doesn’t negate the pleasure of its sweet, sweet innards…
01. Forget It
02. Sutphin Boulevard
03. I’m Sorry We Lied
04. Can We Go Inside Now?
06. Complete Failure
07. Instantly Blank (The Goodness)
08. The Complete Knock
09. Are You Sure You’re Really Busy?
10. Champagne Coast