First impressions can either be of great importance, or of none at all. A terrific first track can go a long way in cultivating your enjoyment of an artist or an album. Yet, some first tracks don’t really matter at all. For each “Gimme Shelter” or “What’s Going On,” there are countless first tracks which would sound the same and fulfill the same purpose in either the 7th or 10th spot. And then there are those hip hop intros which drag on forever and only sound fresh and invigorating the very first time—every other time you play that record you skip right on through Biggie’s “Intro” or Mos Def’s “Fear Not of Men.”
“I feel unique. Not yet complete.”
These are the first words on Coastal Grooves, Dev Hynes’ first work under the moniker Blood Orange. Hynes, formerly Lightspeed Champion, has written for Florence and the Machine and the Chemical Brothers, and sings these words in a voice brimming with depth, flavor, and intimate longing. Hynes draws on the vocals of R&B, funk, and pop, amalgamating them into a delivery and timbre which sound very much like Prince. And like the King of Purple, the Artist Formerly Known as Lightspeed Champion is at his best when singing about love, desire, and sex.
The first time through, Coastal Grooves is very reminiscent of The xx. They both filled with a very strong sense of intimacy shrouded in kick and flavor. They are both furtive albums, relying on memorable bass and percussion tracks, coupled with tidy electronic and electric guitar arrangements to drive their songs (particularly evident on S’Cooled and Instantly Blank (The Goodness)). But while Romy Croft and Oliver Slim cultivate intimacy through brooding and a cold distance, Hynes’ voice comes right up to you and lays itself bare. And yet, there still lingers that sense of distance, a feeling that the last track, “Champagne Coast” demonstrates best. Hynes’ implores, “baby tell me what you need, “ and “come into my bedroom, come into my bedroom” with an airy, ephemeral tone, accenting the harshness in each syllable. This results in a sound that is both full and also in want—as if Hynes were singing his yearning in a hazy head voice, right in your ear.
Aside from Hynes’ airy voice, Coastal Grooves is replete with a progressive sense of motion. Each song has a snap, a kick, a groove that encourages you to move, to sway your torso in your seat, to walk with a little extra pop in your step. The album builds very well, at each new turn a new sonic landscape for Hynes’ voice to float in and out, and clocking in at just over 39 minutes, is short enough to be immediately satisfying and accessible, yet the music is deep and provoking enough to give a glimpse of a truly talented artist.
“Champagne Coast,” the album’s closer, ends with the words, “Baby tell me what you need.” Thus, from the first line to the last, Hynes has created an album of seduction. He wants you, yearns for you to understand his uniqueness as a lover and as an artist, and its difficult to turn him away. For all the attention and talent Hynes put into his Blood Orange debut, the album does feel a bit too similar, a tad too one-minded. Hynes is, without question, uniquely talented, yet Coastal Grooves conveys the sense of an artist not yet complete. A perfectly grand debut, Coastal Grooves is a testament to Hynes’ voice and ability to craft rich, tidy songs, but it is also a harbinger of an exciting artist with much more to offer. We need more of this uniqueness—we need more Blood Orange.
– Tim Tsai