When the Test Icicles first emerged on to the scene with their disorganised take on punk, few could have imagined that, in a few short years, the guitar player would be making such dreamy chillwave pop music as what appears on 'Cupid Deluxe'. The second release from Devont' Hines' Blood Orange project, it is his most determined and stimulating yet. All of the brainwaves that have floated around Dev's head since his formative years come to the fore here, displaying his astuteness as a producer, his creativity as a composer and songwriter and the considerable talents he has developed, as well as those of his many collaborators.
While Dev began to make his craft as a songwriter more efficient by trading his folksy Lightspeed Champion persona in for the new wave sensibilities of Blood Orange on 2011's 'Coastal Grooves', flirtations with pop have always existed. It was his work as a producer for Solange Knowles and Sky Ferreira where his morose take on love blossomed into the blood-red rose he now proudly wears on his lapel. Standing by these wonderfully realised sensibilities, on 'Cupid Deluxe' Dev has created a pop album that retains genuine emotion and a subtlety that has eluded a great number of would-be Sade revivalists over the years.
More than just a solo album for Dev to demonstrate his own aptitude, 'Cupid Deluxe' is by Blood Orange and friends. With friends like these the album needed to miss the mark dramatically, but thankfully it did not. It is as though Dev is the sergeant general commanding his troops who dedicatedly follow his orders to dexterously create starry-eyed new wave pop created in idolisation of New York City. There are nods to his previous records, all of which work really well on the album. 'Time Will Tell' is the most familiar to 'Coastal Grooves', and is one of the many songs where Friends' front-woman and Dev's current girlfriend Samantha Urbani appears. She acts as though she is the album's unofficial Solange, her soulful vocals itinerating with Dev's groundwork to give the album its soulful edge. In particular, 'On The Line' muses over parts of 'Some Things Seem To Never F***ing Work', and 'Uncle ACE' carries hints of Solange to it as well. The seaming guitars in the mid-section are much more reminiscent of The Talking Heads' 'I Zimbra' than anything Dev has attempted before but, as reminiscent as parts of the album are, it remains a statement of intent throughout.
Chairlift's Caroline Polachek appears on album opener and first single 'Chamakay' and sounds as soulful as ever as they drift tenderly over nouveau funk laid down by Dev. On the Clams Casino co-produced 'No Right Thing,' which also features Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors, there isn't the typical 'based' resonance of a typical Clams beat, but instead we have one of the grooviest tracks on the album. The second half of the album meanders in the same direction of Dev's luscious settings as the first but with Dev playing second fiddle to his guest stars; if anything, his decision to sit back in the producer's chair works infinitely to the album's favour. For some, the sudden introduction of underground rap's favourite malingerer Despot may come as an unwelcome surprise, but for me it enhances the aural palate even further and begins a passage into the huge scope of inspiration that Dev has incorporated for 'Cupid Deluxe'.
'Clipped On' combines Hynes' lush reconstruction of chill rap with the automatic rifle delivery of Despot for the album's first rap track. Far from a fly-by guest spot, it showcases Despot's talents as much as it does for Dev's, just as 'High Street' serves as a platform for Skepta to weave his autobiographical verses over the faded beat. Dev may appear to take a back seat for a number of songs, but he is always in the driving seat as his meticulous production reigns supreme on the entirety of the album.
More than anything, 'Cupid Deluxe' defines Dev's artistic yearnings and delivers them in a package that augurs superlatively for the future of his career. His search has been long and aimless at times, but here, Dev has found the sound that suits him better than any and one that will deservedly propel him to eminence.
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