Singer-songwriter Devonté Hynes, aka Blood Orange, has proven himself to be a talented musician and Midas-like producer over the past decade — his work spans everything from albums to film scores, and the production credits he has acquired along the way are equally impressive. Since releasing the mixtape Angel’s Pulse in 2019, Hynes has worked primarily as a composer and producer, seemingly content in the near invisibility it affords him. On Four Songs, Hynes steps back into the spotlight.
Four Songs is classic Blood Orange; lo-fi and sultry, fraught with retro synths and tempered electronic drums. Tracks are treble-y without being tinny and melancholy without being morose. Hynes’s production is sharp and multi-dimensional, blurring the lines of genre and making his music virtually undefinable.
The EP rips into the first track “Jesus Freak Lighter” with a ripple of distorted feedback and static that crackles and hisses underneath fast-paced drum tracking — guitar riffs are simple and retro synths are abundant. The ambient reverb and brisk tsk of an electronic hi-hat are reminiscent of the ’80s in a way that feels understated rather than tacky or trite. Hynes sings of falling and getting carried away; when the moment you find yourself in isn’t quite what you fantasized about, or the pedestal you’ve built from the ground up is faltering under the weight of your own expectations. “Jesus Freak Lighter” is a beguiling introduction to the rest of the EP and is a perfect choice for a first track.
Without a moment’s pause, “Something You Know” sends us floating away with a swimming chill-wave instrumental. It’s like something you could only ever encounter in a dream, filled with lush guitar chords and otherworldly textures and colors. In his trademark falsetto, lilting vocals drift atop gauzy synths and phasers, landing directly in the sweet spot of melancholia — neither too dramatic nor filled with vapid platitudes. The bass line walks up and down in the space between your headphones, lighting up parts of your brain in vibrant color and sound. “Something You Know” is harder to pin down. Ambiguous lyrics about change and growth allow all listeners to find themselves in the track — whether you are well-acquainted with change or vehemently opposed.
Where “Jesus Freak Lighter” is a wall of sound, “Wish” is a cascade. It practically shimmers before your eyes as you listen — a dense track that could have become too ambient if handled with less skill and precision. This is perhaps the gloomiest song on the EP; it speaks of a hunger for change, and an inability to give more of yourself to another person. Hynes sings, “Find another way / To hide all the things I couldn’t do / And you wish it all.” “Wish” is an introspective track about acknowledging when you aren’t giving a relationship your all — when you can’t provide what the other needs and must prepare to lose everything for this. It is about love squandered, and an inability to hide just how flawed you are.
From there, “Relax and Run” opens with male and female voices, moving in an almost recitative way. Hynes creates an air of solemnity and resolve, building tension until releasing it in the outro. It’s about love dissolving in your hands; no amount of grasping for purchase will allow you to keep it. It’s a love that’s doomed from the moment it starts. You “choose a spark and run it to death,” and staying will leave you with only the dying embers of infatuation that once burned so brightly. “Relax and Run” is the aftermath of the emotional turmoil that Four Songs puts us through — what happens after a relationship begins to feel dry and boring, what happens when you can’t rekindle the spark. It is a quiet intimacy that Hynes invites listeners to take part in.
Four Songs bares all — though poetic lyricism can be vague and slippery at points, this story of tumultuous love and drifting apart is honest and deeply introspective. Hynes is world-building, sonically mastering every genre he touches — chameleon-like in nature but furtively honest in all that he does. Four Songs marks the beginning of new content from Hynes as part of his collection of new music completed in 2020. Four Songs is a short project intended to prepare the palette until Hynes is ready for listeners to welcome him back.
Daily Arts Writer Claire Sudol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.