October 14, 2022 | CULTURE | By Jan Alfaro | Illustration by Rowan Kempen
On Sept 8., Blood Orange released the single “Jesus Freak Lighter” after a three year “drought.” I put drought in quotations because Devonté Hynes, the genius behind Blood Orange, has been spreading himself far and wide.
During the past three years, Hynes has written and recorded scores and soundtracks for projects including Luca Guadagnino’s We Are Who We Are, Gia Coppola’s Mainstream, Netflix’s Naomi Osaka documentary and In Treatment, and Rebecca Hall’s Passing.
In addition to being featured in songs by Turnstile and The Avalanches (as Blood Orange), Hynes also released a classical album, Fields, with the Third Coast Percussion. More recently, Hynes was opening for Harry Styles’ 15 show residency at Madison Square Garden.
Now, I didn’t know much about Dev Hynes before doing research for this article but it’s safe to say I’m blown away by this R&B/pop/hip-hop/experimental jazz writer and producer, classical composer, and angelic falsetto vocalist – just to name a few. So, his return with “Jesus Freak Lighter” as the lead single for the EP Four Songs was heavily anticipated by fans.
Blood Orange starts with a few seconds of static, then fast-paced rhythmic drums come in and stay after the static drops off and gets accompanied by lush guitar chords. It has a dance beat to it but one that makes you just want to bop your head and almost sway to the music, not quite one you sweat buckets to.
The lyrics are only about 13 lines, vaguely conveying a liminal state of being – “Falling, falling, got carried away, living in my head, photo fantasy, save it on my phone.”
Hynes’ signature falsetto is accompanied by vocals from previous collaborator, Ian Isiah. Although relatively short at two and a half minutes, the mellow yet captivating tune was a great way to show what was yet to come.
Written, produced, recorded, and mixed by Hynes, the full EP was released Sept 16.
Is it surprising that all the instruments were performed by Hynes, too? Of course not.
“Jesus Freak Lighter” is the opening track followed by “Something You Know.” The second track feels like a soft sun, beach-y or an early fall tune as dreamy guitar chords and soft drums make up most of the instrumental.
The third track, “Wish,” is dope. Whooshing synth pad sonics lay the instrumental foundation and if it weren’t for the guitar chords and kick drums laid over, “Wish” would have been an ambient tune with Hynes’ dreamy vocals, easily transporting listeners underneath a steady waterfall. The meaning of this track is clearer than “Jesus Freak Lighter,” as Hynes’ sings, “Everything that you’re wondering, couldn’t keep you from squandering, and you wish it all, and you wish it all went away.” My personal favorite, this track perfectly highlights the symphonic emotionality of Blood Orange.
The fourth track and album closer, “Relax and Run,” features Erika de Casier and Eva Tolkin, both past collaborators. A soft repeat-after-me dialogue with a simple piano background starts the track off followed by an easy beat that accompanies the lyrics. In between long verse breaks, an ominous UFO-alien sound sits on the piano and guitar chords. Later in the song, this sound continues even when the chorus is being sung. The track closes with a beat change in the last 20 seconds, reminiscent of the beat change in Frank Ocean’s “Nights” but more Blood Orange style.
Hynes’ short but sweet comeback with Four Songs was a quick reminder of his talent of seamlessly blending experimental tones. Individually, each song has a Blood Orange signature, but tests sounds and production styles that make the listening experience refreshing. I’m grateful for the new EP but with such little listen time, I’m only itching to hear more, so hopefully we do soon.
As always, check out this week’s playlist: