There’s neither strategy nor irony in how Dev Hynes makes the music of Blood Orange sound like its name: It reeks of summer and sunset and suffering. It’s easy to see bright orange, a deep brown; the sounds burn like incense from a familiar room, from a place one called home. It’s present and nostalgic, yesterday weighing a ton like the vinyl on the needle. This is the worldview Hynes has accomplished, and continues to expand upon. Angel’s Pulse is an extension of the Negro Swan lens that tidies the loose ends of the preceding work by leaning even further into the impulsive, unhinged nature that’s brought such glory to the Blood Orange name. Hynes landed on the (appropriate) mixtape label out of necessity rather than invention, but there’s nothing hurried or sacrificial about the painful distillations archived via this collage. Hynes remains thoughtful, truthful, and truly collaborative in ways that continue to surprise the listener.
The collaborative point is what gives Angel’s Pulse its heartbeat: It’s the only place where you’ll find Project Pat and Gangsta Boo alongside tinashe, Joba bearing his soul after Arca sings in Spanish, and any BennY RevivaL feature at all. Where Hynes lags in his own vocal abilities, he continues to excel in his role as producer and organizer, channeling and challenging all his trusted companions to fulfill his wishes by bringing their fullest selves to the table. That’s why Chaz Bundick brings the sauce back out, why Ian Isiah continues to lay buttery falsetto all over, and how Aaron Maine drops the guard somewhere in Berlin on “Berlin.” For Hynes himself, a challenge: a mixtape much like the ones he’d usually create for friends — or no one, let him tell it — has seen the light of day in a fraction of the time he usually takes between projects. The 30-something spirit courses through the veins of Angel’s Pulse: concerns of the body and its failings, of the history that repeats itself, and of the ever-depleting reserves of fucks to give. It’s crisis music (again), but with far more grace and control.
In a sense, Angel’s Pulse traces the lineage of Hynes’ influence by allowing them to blossom in the most unexpected ways. The holy undertones of Negro Swan continue to bubble beneath the ongoing struggles presented here. (See “Birmingham,” a searing tribute to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963.) There’s also a subtle, lingering queerness embedded deep in the hues of the tape, per the custom in Blood Orange’s oeuvre. (“Baby Florence (Figure)” pivots between runway-ready ballroom house and an insular, ambient pop.) Where Negro Swan felt much larger and swelling, Angel’s Pulse dwells in isolation and makes due with the exhilaration that comes from an uncertain tomorrow. Where its predecessor paves the way to accepting the nothingness, this mixtape gives the meaningless a new glow and even less clarity as Hynes continues to wait for the smoke to clear. In tandem, perhaps Hynes has offered much more than a roadmap to self-love and resistance… perhaps he’s reminding one to give one’s self permission to be lost, found, and lost once more. Quite the even trade for such stunning steps forward toward the unknown.