Blood Orange’s music deals with a wide variety of personal and political topics that have exceedingly becoming more and more interconnected over the years. Cupid Deluxe’s immaculate exploration of love and loss was defined by Devonte Hynes’ affinity for 80s-inspired pop and funk-a sound that was eventually broadened to fit a more extensive examination of racial and sexual identity on Freetown Sound (there’s a lot of references to black culture of the past). His closeness with these topics eventually morphed into 2018’s Negro Swan-a darker analysis of African American depression, and how one deals with the trauma of living in a discriminatory society.
Hynes utilizes intensive precision when dealing with these heavier concepts; giving them the attention they rightfully deserve. It’s the main reason why he’s garnered so much acclaim over the years. That, and his expansive instrumental palette that includes 90s era hip hop, 80s pop, and progressive R&B-among other things.
Angel’s Pulse represents a stark shift in tone, and a looser approach to its structure. At a swift 34 minutes, Hynes’ newest project is his shortest, and maybe most sonically diverse to date. The majority of the record features snippets of previous recordings with the help of many frequent collaborators; Justine Skye and Kelsey Lu included. In a reverse psychological way, Angel’s Pulse seemingly acts as a trailer for the bleak cinematic recognitions of our increasingly heteronormative society within Negro Swan.
Sure, the shimmering guitar chords on “I Wanna C U” and the chopped and screwed nature of “Dark & Handsome” may exude an optimistic emphasis on the black culture. However, Hynes doesn’t shy away from his meticulous appreciation for those who’ve died in vein. “Birmingham” is a minute-and-a-half soul epic about the wrongful bombing of an Alabama church in 1963 by white supremacists-an inhumane event that caused the death of four black children. Lu sings her verse with such ardor; it’s hard to not believe she was personally touched by this horrific event (“For when she heard the explosion/Her eyes grew wet and wild/She raced through the streets if Birmingham/Calling for her child”). This touching rendition is one of the more profound moments of 2019’s musical canon.
Hynes also leaves a diverse footprint on a lot of the genre-bending soundscapes that made him famous in the first place. For such a short album, the super-producer uses the platform of Angel’s Pulse as a channel for appreciation, where songs like “Gold Teeth” and “Seven Hours Part 1” represent Memphis’ southern hip hop scene at its most pristine. Project Pat and Gangsta Boo embrace black materialism as a sense of pride on the former, while BennY RevivaL’s insecurities dominate the latter.
Like any great Blood Orange collaboration, there’s a sense of balance and cohesion between Hynes and his contemporaries-even in this looser format. He’s always been a blunt supporter of representation in music, and Angel’s Pulse is no different. In some aspects, he’s okay with taking the role of director and producer. It doesn’t matter who’s getting his message across-just as long as it is.
Ian Isaiah rounds out “Birmingham” with an equally poignant performance as Lu, while Skye injects some subtle female empowerment on “Good For You” (“Take out the trash and go/I don’t need you no more/And I know that you’re scared of what I can do to you”). JOBA is featured on “Take it Back;” and pursues his mental illness with the same care he would on a Brockhampton album. Unfortunately, the rest of the song is a slog, with Hynes vocally riffing over an uncharacteristically bland instrumental.
The explosive intro to “Baby Florence (Figure)” ironically acts as an awkward transition from the silky and smooth R&B of “Good For You.” The perpetual hi-hats and abstract songwriting read as another instance of creative scanning-something you wouldn’t expect from a guy who takes great care of his artistic endeavors.
Nonetheless, Hynes is still able to conjure up a worthwhile piece of art without delving too far deep into its hefty concepts. He described Angel’s Pulse as a sketchbook of ideas from different areas of recording. Hynes is increasingly becoming more comfortable in his own skin, something he highlights on “Benzo’s” Gospel-infused chorus-“Outside, I saw where I belong.” Belonging is another continuous theme in his music. Something we’ve all struggled with at some point in our lives. Hynes embodies it, and offers a snapshot of the very word that’s dominated the core of his music.
If anything, Angel’s Pulse represents an intermission-an “escape” from the darkness if you will. Which, is maybe something all of us need after these last four years.