Dev Hynes, more commonly known under his alias, Blood Orange, is an artist that has continuously grown over the years; progressively refining his voice and style, while maintaining a strong sense of purpose and familiarity. His new record, Negro Swan, is his most cohesive and rewarding effort to date.
The album deals with what Hynes refers to as “black depression,” and the “ongoing anxieties of queer/people of colour”, addressing such issues with emotional clarity and earnest, raw lyricism. Kicking things off with ‘Orlando’, the album starts intimately with the sounds of an ambient New York street; traffic, cars honking, chit-chat. The track gets going with a groove-heavy bassline and soft drum beat. It’s instantly catchy, hooking you in, as Hynes tenderly describes his English origins and experiences of bullying as a child: ‘First kiss was the floor’. This kind of sonic and lyrical contrast—smooth sounds, heavy songwriting—is carried throughout the 49-minute runtime, resulting in a rich, rewarding and textured listen that begs to be replayed and dissected.
The first half of the record flows perfectly, dipping in and out of slow, woozy lullabies such as ‘Take Your Time’ and ‘Jewelry’, and hard-hitting, R&B-focused cuts such as the brilliant ‘Charcoal Baby’ and ‘Hope’. The second half of the album occasionally loses its focus, with tracks such as the stripped back, gospel-influenced ‘Holy Will’, that feel like unnecessary filler amongst an otherwise tight and engrossing track list. Despite these minor flaws, Negro Swan is not only a great record but an important one.