By Troy Fultz
A certain comfort comes in the isolation of a big city. Looming anxieties are forgotten while wandering the city streets. A large metropolis offers the anonymity to be oneself, to get lost and be alone. Isolation is large part of the human experience, the feeling of being alone in the vastness of it all. The emotive expression of isolation is what makes Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe one of the greatest albums of last year.
Cupid Deluxe was released to acclaim last November by British artist-producer Dev Hynes, his second album under the moniker ‘Blood Orange’. The album is an 80’s-influenced, R&B-tinged, new wave effort that features collaborations from the likes of Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, Adam Bainbridge from Kindness, Skepta and Hynes’ real-life romantic partner, Samantha Urbani. Many of these tracks on Cupid Deluxe contain heavy bass lines and synth layers which are smartly interlaced with the vocal guest appearances. The track, “Chosen” is a slow, jazz-like burner — a perfect example of this smart musical composition.
So why does this album matter so much and isn’t lost in the surplus of R&B revival records that is occurring? As Cupid Deluxe approaches its one-year anniversary the album still never loses its sense of ingenuity. The album plays on the themes of human transition, in both its musical influence and lyrical content. Hynes grew up in Ilford, East London and then moved to New York City in 2007. A musical vagabond for many years, Hynes took this experience of listening to American 80’s pop music with a English ear and translated it to create the sonic palate that he has translated into his many music projects. Disco beats, grief-stricken cries, love scorned lyrics, and slick saxophone samples package a complex yet cohesive album with intricate production.
Cupid Deluxe often takes point of view from the resilient, forsaken lover. Hynes uses an androgynous approach to the album’s vocal couplings with songs often using gender-neutral pronouns or having same-sex duets. Much of the album’s lyrical content alludes to New York City’s trans and queer communities of the late 1980’s. Madonna also took inspiration from this community with the popularizing of their highly stylized dancing called “voguing”. Hynes has previously said that their sense of community and family inspired him upon moving to New York City. On tracks such as “Time Will Tell,” he loops lyrics together from previous tracks of the album to croon, “Even if it’s something that you’ve had on your eye / It is what it is”.
On the surface, the record comes off as lonely but Cupid Deluxe takes comfort in the presence of its collaborators. Upon listening to the album one eventually realizes that its isolation can be a state of comfort. You begin to comprehend that there is a bigger community experiencing the same emotions, and in this lies the beauty of the album. Life is a beautiful expression of the unconscious knowing that you aren’t really alone. Cupid Deluxe demands more than just a listen, it demands a quiet reflection. Hynes allows you enough sonic space to feel the beat while allowing for enough silence to digest the lyrics. It is a delicate line to create an album that straddles between softly contemplative and catchy up-tempo. So set aside an hour and allow yourself to feel alone while Hynes croons you into feeling of euphoria. Even if you don’t feel exalted you will sure be moved to dance alone in your room.