Chancing hipster, or inspired genre-dabbler? That’s the question people have been asking about Dev Hynes ever since he first appeared as part of Test Icicles, and one you suspect folk will still be posing in years to come. After the pastoral strains of Lightspeed Champion, writing and producing for Florence and Diana Vickers, and palling around with the Knowles sisters, Dev enters his New York R&B-inflected period in the form of Blood Orange, whose debut ‘Coastal Grooves’ is released today on Domino. So then, are there creative seeds here worth harvesting in the future? Let’s see what the critics thought…
Whilst charmed by its narrative wiles, NME’s own Alex Denney isn’t convinced by this latest bout of mask-donning – something Hynes has openly admitted to, saying, “I was trying to write songs that could be sung by a drag queen”. At the end of his review Al concludes: “Ultimately, ‘Coastal Grooves’ can’t quite transcend its identity as the solid handiwork of a talented journeyman, whatever its attempts at pathos. The record leans at time too heavily on its basic formula of pizzicato electric guitar and seedy, somnambulant basslines. Still, as a slice of squalid glamour with a beating heart under its rusted exterior, ‘Coastal Grooves’ deserves your attention.”
Ally Carnwarth of The Observer was more taken by the record, positing that “his latest project deserves to settle the argument in his favour. On paper, its influences – surf punk, Prince, oriental pop, minimalist dance – smack of hipster posturing, but on record, they blend beautifully”.
The Telegraph’s James Lachno was equally charmed by ‘Coastal Grooves’, writing, “Hynes’s latest project is an irresistible synthesis of Eighties sounds, from galloping power-pop to rich funk-soul shudder. Hynes’s voice is refined into an emotive croon. Inventive pop from a bright indie talent.”
Similarly high praise comes from Drowned In Sound’s Bronya Louise Francis, who acknowledges Dev’s magpie-like tendencies when it comes to genre study, but finds the record “a collection of extremely and extensively well-informed pieces of music, yet with such an array of influences it’s hard to ultimately categorise.”
Tipping back down to the lukewarm end of the scale, it’s The Independent’s Simon Price, who laments, “Now resident in New York, his operation stripped down to just a laptop and a guitar, he twiddles the latter prettily over slightly crap computerised drumbeats from the former while singing coded confessionals and third-person yarns. It’s pleasant enough, but on the whole feels like Hynes’ sketches towards an album, rather than the finished item.”
Christopher Monk of Music OMH is impressed by Dev’s conceit, drawing inspiration from “the identity-blurring work of transgender icons such as Octavia St Laurent and the nihilism of Gregg Araki movies” as well as the “seedy yet inspirational New York night time”, but finds that he doesn’t deliver, writing that the record’s “sheer dullness induces the listener into a meditative state. There’s a distinct lack of hooks, pace, drama, excitement or anything that would prevent this album sinking meekly into the background of whatever environment it finds itself played in.”
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So then, whilst there’s not nearly the amount of bile for Blood Orange’s debut as for last week’s You Review album, it doesn’t seem that many will be willing him to hold on to the incarnation next time around. What do you make of Dev’s smooth grooves? Let us know in the comments below.