Domino, 2011

There should be no love lost for the naming of this latest project from Dev Hynes, as the blood orange is considered a more bitter mutation of the sweet orange, and Coastal Grooves absolutely carries its fair share of musically bitter stylings over from Hynes’ previous project, Lightspeed Champion. The music is grungier, coated in lo-fi and splattered with New Wave tendencies offsetting Lightspeed’s baroque pop sensibilities. What hasn’t changed is Hynes’ tremendous ability to craft excellent songs and his near virtuoso approach to the instrumentation on the record.

Lightspeed’s first record boasted some clever strings, the second emphasized keyboards, and both sported plenty of nifty acoustic guitar work. Now, Blood Orange returns to this framework in the form of masterful electric guitar lines over minimal accompaniment. “I am not your savior,” sings Hynes on the first cut off the album “Forget It” over some carefully plucked-out rhythm guitar lines. Looped percussion and warm synths do little to detract from Hynes as he continues, before the second round of chorus introduces another guitar line, this time much higher and working against the original until a rockin’ guitar solo intervenes. It’s deceptively simple, but well-built and catchy. The second track follows suit: guitar, drum loops, synths, Hynes. The breakdown is not as extensive, and the solo doesn’t expand to such extremities, but we have a very good idea of how the rest of the album will play out.

In the hands of someone else, this formula could become banal quickly, but Hynes’ adept musicianship and engrossing melodies save it from too much repetition. Juxtaposing the tempos in the percussion and guitars (“Are You Sure You’re Really Busy?”, “S’cooled”); changing up the melancholy slouch of songs like “Can We Go Inside Now” with the tripled-rhythms and subtle disco grin of “The Complete Knock”; or just letting the music unfold slowly but assuredly, as on the record’s final cut, “Champagne Coast”. Not every cut on the album is a winner, but every one has something to ultimately contribute, and none are disposable.

Hard to say if this is a step in the right direction for Hynes, at least for fans of Lightspeed’s two wonderful records, since this is an entirely different musical direction altogether. What it is, is a stellar collection of songs, and that seems to trump any musical deviations regardless of fan expectations. Given Hynes’ propensity for the eclectic, such as his early screamo work with Test Icicles or the more recent classical performances with the Britten Sinfonia, these new explorations into other genres of music shouldn’t be a surprise. And as long as they continue to be this good, shouldn’t be unwelcomed, either.