Blood Orange - Coastal Grooves Album Review25 Jul 2011
Dev Hynes is what music critics used to describe as prolific. Not content to rest on his laurels after last years triumphant Lightspeed Champion album (Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You), he returns in August with a new moniker and a new sound. The former Test Icicles man's also reinvented himself yet again, as the Blood Orange material seems to be partially informed by his recent behind the scenes work with artists like Florence Welch and Diana Vickers. The folk influenced guitars of Lightspeed Champion are replaced here with pop inspired grooves and a liberal smattering of 80's nostalgia thrown in for good measure.
The first lyrics of Coastal Grooves are perhaps a mission statement of sorts, "I feel unique, not yet complete", Hynes sings as you wonder whether he's explaining why this new iteration of his music has emerged. 'Forget It' then settles into an upbeat funky bassline with synths underpinning it. It's over a minute before cascading guitars emerge to illuminate the catchy chorus. Lyrically it's not all happiness however, with the repeated refrain of "I am not your saviour, girl" highlighting Hynes' soulful delivery.
'Sulphin Boulevard' follows a similar musical structure, but has a more laid back feel. It owes a debt to post punk of the early eighties, but with a more glossy approach than Hynes has attempted previously. 'I'm Sorry We Lied' then morphs the instrumentation into something akin to early Bloc Party, but keeps an element of consistency with what's come before. Although Hynes is using percussive flourishes and samples to set the mood here, these songs really do live up to the record title. 'S'Cooled' rattles along with a late night groove that sounds as if you could be sitting in a bar on a beach.
The most noticeable thing about this set of songs is how well crafted they are. Although Coastal Grooves takes its cues from the 80's the strength of the catchy basslines, riffs and drum parts makes it a contemporary reworking of an outdated musical era. Even the more extreme moments of homage, such as the synth breakdown in the middle of 'The Complete Knock', work in a knowing way. That particular example sounds like a rejected Zelda theme tune, but with a pulsating bassline in the background allowing it to seamlessly take over the track.
Hynes saves perhaps the best track until last, with a pitch perfect Prince impression on 'Champagne Coast'. The sampled beats provide an edge to the soothing keyboards which build with an intensity to bring it somewhere between pop and house music. It's this kind of song that justifies the existence of Blood Orange, it would stick out like a sore thumb on a Lightspeed Champion album, but here it's the logical conclusion to the narrative presented by these 10 tracks.
As an opening salvo from Blood Orange, Coastal Grooves is intelligent and engaging without becoming a carbon copy of the music that has inspired it. It could be seen as a musical side step for Hynes, but it's certainly a welcome one.