Looks are deceiving sometime - and with Blood Orange, looks are important. Starting with the name change (gone are the days of Lightspeed Champion, at least for now), followed by the make-over (check out the video of “Dinner” and see the man sporting a new hairdo, a reversed baseball cap and even an Air Jordan earring) and last but not least his new falsetto voice; Devonté Hynes wants to convince us that he's changed completely, even though the change isn't that big after all, nor as definitive as you might think. “Coastal Grooves” is the testimony of his new ways, the proof that his moving to New York, his nightly adventures and his new friendships (with people like Theophilus London, CANT, Twin Shadow, Cassie and Solange Knowles, musically speaking) have had an impact on him. The transformation is there, but his new persona is far from complete.
The new Hynes introduced himself alongside Terrible with “Dinner” and “Bad Girls”, two inspired synthetic pop exercises with a certain air of eighties boogie, indicating a turn to funk. But no; or not as much as we thought, anyway. Blood Orange isn't placing all his bets on just one number, and far from getting caught by the demons of groove and synthetic melodrama, he's wandering through ample stylistic fields which rarely emit the same light as the aforementioned tracks. Only “Champagne Coast” and “Sutphin Boulevard” unite the nocturnal sensuality of R&B and smooth and synthetic, with a touch of exotic, eighties pop. The arrangements are slightly reminiscent of both F.R David and Mtume, of The Blue Nile and Central Line, of Cameo and Japan, even of the mature Yellow Magic Orchestra. And it turns out “Sutphin Boulevard” is, apart from one of Blood Orange's best songs, the first single off of the album. Again, looks.
If you listen to “Coastal Grooves” with those three tracks in mind, you'll be surprised to hear that “Forget It” is pure power pop (with rigorous guitar solo included). A slight disappointment, because unexpectedly, that's put into perspective by “I'm Sorry We Lied” - distilling new wave essences. They're basic songs, dominated by guitars, lacking any kind of groove and with hardly any synthetic elements (a monotonous rhythm box and a dry timbre). “Can We Go Inside Now” increases the confusion, sounding like a meeting between Brett Anderson (I swear: Hynes' voice makes some turns like the Suede leader at his least histrionic), Chris Isaak and The Bad Seeds strangely holding back; all that, finished off with some guitar licks that sound oriental at times. “Complete Failure” is more adventurous, mixing Marc Ribot-like guitars with spaghetti western choruses and Hynes playing a role as lascivious crooner.
Among the more rhythmic songs is “S'cooled”. The track, written from a female point of view, starts out galloping over a disco-funk bassline, only to quickly turn into a kind of left-field dub thing, settling somewhere between Big Two Hundred and a friendly version of “Death Disco” era PiL. The influence of dub and punk-funk in its cleanest version also surfaces on “Instantly Blank” and “The Complete Knock”, a track which, at some points, is reminiscent of a stylish and strict Foals, scared to let their hair hang down.
Luis M. Rguez