If you, like me, spent 2005 desperately trying to appear cool, you probably spent your summer listening to Test Icicles’ riotous debut LP For Screening Purposes Only. It was an album built on a mellifluous foundation of hip-hop, indie rock and thrash punk – an eclecticism demonstrated in the diversity of the bandmates’ various ventures following the demise of their band. From the limp-wristed anti-folk of Lightspeed Champion to the clamourous racket of RAT:ATT:AGG, the Test Icicles begat a host of solo and joint ventures. Dev Hyne’s incarnation as Blood Orange is their best effort yet.
Almost every song is a microcosm of collusion and disparate influence. ‘No Right Thing’, for example, boasts a vocal feature by Dave Longstreth of new-wave revisionists The Dirty Projectors and the eldritch production witchcraft of Clams Casino, a man up there with Harry Fraud and Lex Luger as one of the hottest hip-hop producers in the world. Lead single and album opener ‘Chamakay’ is also a delight, with Caroline Polachek of Chairlift lending her swooning vocals to a track which evidently owes a lot to Hyne’s acclaimed production work with Solange. It sets the tone for the rest of the album, with an instrumental template straight out of 1987 combined with a hauntingly timeless vocal performance and gentle electronic undercurrents that ebb and flow throughout. ‘Chamakay’ is 21st-century R&B, but with the emphasis on blues over rhythm.
Cupid Deluxe draws together the best of Hyne’s previous ventures. As Lightspeed Champion, his songwriting was bursting at the seams with ideas but overly ramshackle and convoluted. His 2011 debut as Blood Orange, Coastal Grooves, hit upon a winning new-new-wave formula but was a little too timorous. Here, Hynes couples the 80s funk of Coastal Grooves with the lyrical audacity of his misspent youth. This is largely thanks to the guest features, bestowing the album with a mien of urban sophistication and variety. Skepta’s verse on ‘High Street’ is the best thing he’s recorded since 2009, a wistful paean to London meadering in and out of a ghostly beat like a preoccupied youth wandering through the backstreets of Tottenham after dark. Truly urban music.