Based on the prominence of the Air Jordan earrings and pre-ripped light-wash jeans he sports in the music video for 2011’s “Dinner,” there’s little doubt where Dev Hynes’s muse lies. Though he’s a bit of a sonic drifter, performing under various aliases since 2005 and composing/producing for Solange, Theophilus London, and Florence and the Machine, his work as Blood Orange proudly wears its affection for that mercurial era between the late ’80s and early ’90s, when pop, hip-hop, house, and R&B started to coexist at the top of the charts. That musical snapshot informs “Everything Is Embarrassing,” the sparse, late-night bedroom-pop anthem he co-wrote with Sky Ferreira last year, and Cupid Deluxe picks up where that track left off: Blood Orange’s sophomore effort chronicles alienation and broken romance with slow, melancholic, ’90s-gazing jams.
The album plays like chilled-out odes to Prince as delivered by a forlorn and androgynous lothario holed up in his city loft, its isolation appearing to be mostly self-imposed. On “Everything Is Embarrassing,” Ferreira sounded like she was singing from inside the dark bathroom shower pictured on the cover of Night Time, My Time, and in channeling that same kind of confinement here, the anxious, nasal-voiced Hynes presents himself as an outsider protesting against the privileged cool kids, sealing himself away in some private domain to craft an angst-ridden, funk-kissed rebuke to both ex-girlfriends and bullies. Following through from the bitter pill that was Coastal Grooves’s “Dinner,” “You’re Not Good Enough” is the diary of a chafed lover, employing the sort of milky organs and liquefied basslines reminiscent of Private Eyes-era Hall & Oates. Indeed, every chillwave groove on Cupid Deluxe comes tinged with a kind of despondent venom, and the cruelest invectives are cushioned by sweet, gentle melodies.
“Chosen” is a slow-burning opus that, aside from its chunky drumpad loop, remains quiet, ambling, and largely unassuming for its near-seven-minute length. The track isn’t necessarily Cupid Deluxe’s most intriguing offering (that honor goes to the heartbroken, funked-up paean to Sign O’ the Times, “Always Let U Down”), but it does show how far Hynes has come since Coastal Grooves, presenting a subtle but exquisitely layered conceit that’s far less reliant on superficial, ’90s-worshipping embellishments. “Chosen” is, in some respect, all about Hynes exploring the boundaries of his own style rather than seeking to merely echo those of his idols, and like Cupid Deluxe as a whole, the song strips away the novelty of Hynes’s sound to reveal that there is indeed something real and captivating beneath.