Blood Orange’s new mixtape ‘Angel’s Pulse’ punches above its weight

Wednesday, July 17, 2019 - 4:35pm

The New York Times

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In the truest sense of the word, a “mixtape” is a compilation of songs that come from multiple sources. This definition harkens back to the days before digital playlists. Mixtapes were not endlessly augmented, so they were often made with a certain vibe or theme in mind. 

In the mid to late 2000s hip-hop scene, though, the definition began to change. At this time, a mixtape was essentially a free album that could not be held accountable for any sort of uncleared sample or copyright infringement. Entire careers were made off of this platform. Take Lil Wayne for example: Some fans only listen to mixtape Weezy. That’s how popular mixtapes were for a time. Today, the definition of a mixtape is changing once again. Mixtapes are being released for profit, but they are intended to be taken less seriously than a normal studio album. With his latest release Angel’s Pulse, Blood Orange, also known as Dev Hynes, combines each interpretation of the mixtape into one final product.

Hynes said during the tape’s short promotional period that after each album he creates, he also creates a mixtape of sorts to serve as an epilogue. He usually gives these mixtapes to friends and random passersby, but for the first time, Hynes is sharing one of these tapes with the world.

Angel’s Pulse serves as the epilogue to Hynes’s phenomenal 2018 release Negro Swan. It fleshes out any incomplete ideas and wraps up this chapter of Hynes’s career. With this mixtape, Hynes explores the different sounds presented on Negro Swan and experiments with their strengths and limitations in a context that is not meant to be taken as seriously as an album. With that said, the sound is not cohesive throughout, true to the original definition of a mixtape. Angel’s Pulse is a collection of songs that Hynes felt effectively represented this moment in his life.

Despite the implications of the word “mixtape,” Angel’s Pulse deserves to be taken seriously. It’s lighthearted, but that doesn’t mean it’s not heartfelt. Opening track “I Wanna C U” is bouncy and loved up. It ponders Hynes’s relationship with the person trapped in his head. It’s very sweet sounding, but the repetitive nature of the song makes Hynes seem almost tortured in a way, as if performing the song is the only way to make the person in his head manifest themselves in real life.

In stark sonic contrast to “I Wanna C U” are “Dark & Handsome” and “Benzo.” The songs depart from the light tone of “I Wanna C U” to a more contemplative and somber sound, but they share the same themes and suggest the mixtape’s overall concept. “Dark & Handsome” yearns for days long gone as Hynes’ sings, “Nothing lasts forever, and I told you / Everything you need to know is not true / Lyin’ to myself because it hurts you.” “Benzo” continues this theme of yearning for something that is not there. He laments, “Open the door, leave with arms exposed / Outside, I saw where I belong.” Hynes knows what will make him content, but the only way he can get there is if he can leave the past behind him.

Angel’s Pulse continues this theme of yearning for an altered past with the heartwrenching “Birmingham,” a reflection on the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that tragically took the lives of four children, and “Baby Florence (Figure),” a track in which Hynes assures his partner that he will help determine where their relationship went wrong. However, mixtape standout “Gold Teeth” seems a stark departure from this theme. The track is stacked, featuring Tinashe, Gangsta Boo and Project Pat. It’s highlighted by braggadocio and talks of life in the streets over a chopped sample of Project Pat’s “Rinky Dink II/We’re Gonna Rumble.” Everything on the track screams assuredness: Project Pat’s gruff delivery on the refrain, Gangsta Boo’s empowering verse and Hynes and Tinashe’s lush, confident chorus. Despite all this, it still falls perfectly in line with the vibe of the mixtape. It presents a desire to be someone who does what they want, when they want to do it.

The remainder of the mixtape keeps the effort going, as some of the best songs play late in the album’s runtime. “Seven Hours Part 1” features an outstanding and earnest feature from BennY RevivaL in which he attempts to figure out his place and purpose in life. After lamenting his previous choices, he raps, “A better day is on the rise / Figure why chase sleep, I’m tryna live a better life / And without you, I feel I’m wastin’ time.” “Take It Back” shares a similar message. It is the realization that it makes no sense to go through life alone and that it is possible to become better with the help of another person.

Angel’s Pulse is a mixtape in the truest sense of the word. It combines different songs with a multitude of sounds that all share the same themes. Together, the songs make sense. It may not be as hard hitting thematically as other Blood Orange projects, but it certainly deserves to be treated like them. Despite the low stakes suggested by the term “mixtape,” Dev Hynes was in peak form on Angel’s Pulse, his beautiful exploration on the yearnings of life.