“Negro Swan” by Blood Orange – Review
Review by Spencer Smith
In rank opposition to 2016’s percussive and funky Freetown Sound, Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange strips back for his most minimal project yet. Instrumentally it also places Hynes’ guitar playing in the foreground, a production choice that pays off in spades: paired with his raw vocals, both the acoustic and electric performances sound incredibly fresh. In place of the bustling drums and bass of Freetown is a silent, nearly meditative atmosphere on the artist’s persistent interest on the complexity of race and sexuality alike.
Here, Dev Hynes stitches together moments of soaring emotion and sexy grooves with vast urban field recordings to create the cozy, complex milieu in Negro Swan. Guided by impactful narration on self-love, the album’s cohesiveness somehow collapses into some sort of genre-less song cycle or even a storybook on overcoming repression. Smooth transitions and consistent sonics cause movements in the second half of the album to appear almost as old friends, accompanied by this unique sense of nostalgic familiarity. For all its consistency, tracks bounce from soul earworms (“Saint”), to off-kilter acoustic work in the line of Dave Longstreth (“Smoke”), to dreamy electronic grooves (“Charcoal Baby”) in rapidly and acrobatically. Each song glows with Dev’s multidimensional artistic experience, seamlessly sneaking avant-garde textures beneath the architectures of pop, hip-hop, and R&B.
Dev also makes the best of his collaborators without being overly reliant on them. Fresh off his most vulnerable project (TESTING, which also features Blood Orange), A$AP Rocky lends a great verse to easily the biggest banger on the album, “Chewing Gum.” Rising star Steve Lacy also contributes his (at this point) trademarked thick, lo-fi dance-y soul sound to “Out of Your League.” In my opinion Negro Swan is a sonic disciple to Blonde in its experimentation and beauty, and flawlessly documents the current space and trajectory of R&B in 2018, in its themes, personnel, and above all its willingness to take risks.
Edited by Derek Adams