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Dev Hynes Shines With Women By His Side on Freetown Sound

On July 5, 2016

by Ilana Kaplan


Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to hear. This week's album of the week is Freetown Sound by Blood Orange. 

Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound might just be Dev Hynes’ most brilliant work yet. Instead of Hynes taking center stage, it’s the women who sing with him that shine on his 17-track LP. The female perspective is something that Hynes is all too familiar withhis 2011 opus Coastal Grooves comes from a mainly female POV. On 2013’s Cupid Deluxe, Hynes’ voice was also echoed by female vocalists Samantha Urbani and Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek. Hynes’ collaborations with female talent on his record doesn’t come as a surprise: he’s written songs with some of the most iconic names in pop, including Carly Rae Jepsen, Sky Ferreira and Solange. So, seeing Hynes work with Debbie Harry, Nelly Furtado, Rae Jepsen, along with Kelsey Lu, Empress Of and more on the record, fits into Hynes’ aesthetic. You won’t see their names appear clearly featured on each track, which is something that usually happens when an artist has guests on a track. Instead, these artists become a part of a collective when they work with Hynes. Their voices are one, so the need to credit with individual features seems unnecessary. It’s with Freetown Sound that Hynes’ voice truly represents much more than himself. It’s a record that hones in on the power of women’s voices and the black community. And it’s something that makes the record feel as if it’s one collective story as opposed to separate songs. It’s often hard to differentiate between the ending of one song and the beginning of another: something that works in Hynes’ favor.

Freetown Sound is a giant ode to #BlackLivesMatter. While Hynes tackled the country’s politics last fall with a track dedicated to Sandra Bland (“Sandra’s Smile”), he made the political, emotional on his latest album. He looked beyond the headlines and beyond Bland’s death to hone in on the person she was—not just what the media perceived her to be. On Freetown Sound, Hynes perpetuates the idea of looking beyond the headlines while navigating his own personal struggles. It’s no secret that Hynes has been through a lot the past few years: he lost his home in a fire in New York CIty and alleged that he was assaulted by security at a festival. Needless to say, Freetown Sound isn’t meant to be an uplifting record, and it’s not. It’s introspective, full of grief and heartbreak.

On opener “By Ourselves,” the tone of the record is set to melancholic saxophone (an instrument that serves as a character that weaves throughout the album) and Ashlee Haze’s spoken word that pays homage to the idea of black feminism: “Feminism is Missy, Lil Kim, and Angie Martinez on the “Not Tonight” track.” Having moved to New York from the UK, Hynes explores “being black in England, being black in America.” His parents also experienced a similar migration going to London from Guyana and Sierra Leone. It’s something Hynes explores through the vulnerable “Augustine, in which he addresses the death of Trayvon Martin through lush lyrics and downtempo drum beats (“Cry and burst my deafness, while Trayvon falls asleep”). It’s the exploration of pain and politics that makes this single one of the standouts of the record. With the help of the angelic Kelsey Lu, Hynes explores the idea of black identity, opportunity and what it means for him and the limitations he’s had to deal with on “Chance” Between glimmering synths, Hynes professes, “Been chewed up but it makes you proud/You're the dark skinned nigga in a sold out crowd.”

Hynes further explores the idea of black identity with an interlude with timeless vocals that soar (“Black can get you over/And black can set you down”). Hynes continues the theme of black power on “Love Ya” with the help of Zuri Marley (granddaughter of Bob Marley) and a recorded interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates. Once again the saxophone stands out as a character of sorts on Freetown Soundit narrates the political and personal that Hynes explores. On “But You,” Hynes recounts a tale of trying not to scare a white girl while walking down the street, as he divulged to The New York Times. Hynes hones in on the uniqueness of the black identity and the stereotypes that society tends to hold onto. In an effort to shatter said stereotypes, Hynes croons, “Teach yourself about your brother/Cause there's no one else but you/You are special in your own way.”

Furthermore, Hynes explores the idea of prayers and protection with “Juicy 1-4”: something that didn’t help Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin or Sandra Bland. Hynes cites a Catholic prayer, revising the words and showing how prayers have failed black America (“Our lady Africa You promised us a home/But never while we're young”). One of most striking tracks on the record is “Hands Up,” in which Hynes uses his penchant for synth-coated balladry to honor the black lives lost including Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin (“Keep your hood up when you’re walking...Sure enough they’re gonna take your body”). The song ends with the repetition of “Don’t shoot” to represent the ongoing problem with police brutality in America. It’s a powerful message for a deeply emotional record. While Freetown Sound isn’t a history book, its exploration of racial inequality, black identity and stereotyping should make it required listening for anyone growing up in the nation. Freetown Sound won’t solve our nation’s problems, but it sure is a start.


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