The alias Blood Orange is etched in Dev Hynes’s discography. He does embrace other noms de plume, though, and assigns each to a signature style. But “Lightspeed Champion,” the spacy, genre-defying brand that carved a delicate niche in the R&B and soul game, never gained the traction that Blood Orange has. The latter’s dreamy, sometimes melancholic synth-pop has given Hynes the recognition he deserves from artists Empress Of, Carly Rae Jepsen and A$AP Rocky. And since the release of Negro Swan last fall, Hynes has been on a creative streak, releasing EP Angel’s Pulse this summer and Fields last Friday.
Fields is a significant departure from any work previously released. A classical music album, it’s published under Hynes’s official name alongside Third Coast Percussion. Hynes composed all the music in a digital audio workstation and sent the recordings and sheet music to the members of Third Coast Percussion to arrange and orchestrate for their own instruments. “This was the first time I’ve written music that I’ve never played, and I love that,” Hynes said in a press release. “It’s something I’ve always been striving to get to. Seeing what Third Coast Percussion had done with these pieces was magical.” This relationship is symbiotic, with Third Coast Percussion partaking in the collaborative energy and increasing the potential to reach new groups of people.
An 11-song-suite titled “For All Its Fury” gives way to “Perfectly Voiceless” and “There Was Nothing,” the two final tracks on the album that each individually span more than ten minutes. The songs of the suite have been regularly performed live along with “Perfectly Voiceless,” which was intended as a musical interlude.
Despite the new packaging, the album doesn’t stray too far from the conventions of a Blood Orange album. Within its dreamy membrane are songs that reach for particular emotions within us, striking the good and the bad in equal measure. A contemplative aura radiates throughout the project as one song leads to another, especially within the “For All the Fury” suite. The songs are characteristically sparse and embody a minimalistic appeal, keys and flutes beckoning in a new emotion the way synths generally would in a Hynes album. At its core, this album, especially within the suite, strives to tell a story.
Intro track “Reach” is sheer. It wades in a pattern of sparse glockenspiel and sharp xylophones that loop over a subdued, humming percussion that slowly gives way to plinking bells. There’s a wistful, nostalgic energy as the song gently invites listeners to follow along in the eleven track journey. Conversely, its follow-up “Blur” conveys a somber side. The title is fitting, as a hazy buzz that revs with only a few chimes to offset the tension dominates the track. This general pattern of zigzagging from serenity to anxiety develops the album track by track. It triggers and blends both emotions well, most notably in “Curl,” a brief track with a background sound akin to a car trudging through the snow. All of this culminates at the end of the suite with eponymous “Fields.” It traverses effortlessly through xylophone and glockenspiel based choruses that build over one another. In its last stretch, a chaotic rhythm with too many beats at once — a fascinating conundrum, given the minimalist appeal of the entire album.
Concluding with “Perfectly Voiceless” and “There was Nothing” is questionable. The tracks are undeniable standouts, especially the former, but they operate on a different plane than the very cohesive “For All Its Fury” and keenly differentiate themselves with their combined 23-minute length. Though they borrow similar elements from the suite, they’re more lavish and stretch themselves over longer schemes like a slow burn.
As an introductory project between Dev Hynes and Third Coast Percussion, Fields functions as a stunning mashup between forces. The album effortlessly embraces the magic of both artists in its captivating portrayal of emotions and diligent instrumentals. Despite its sparse appeal, this burgeoning branching-off from convention is rich, exciting and addictive.