Willie Reviews Blood Orange’s “Angel’s Pulse”

Willie Reviews Blood Orange’s “Angel’s Pulse”

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It would already be a truly amazing feat to rattle off fourteen musical ideas in order to prove you have a bottomless reservoir of hooks and fragments. Blood Orange doesn’t just have that, he also has the foresight to craft the mixtape form into a formal statement the size and shape of an album. Angel’s Pulse presents as collection of asides and et ceteras, but it takes full advantage of and elevates its form. RPM’s review:

We’ve come to expect excellence in the art of hairpin tonal shifts from Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange. He’s conquered the R&B sound as Blood Orange, but has also worked in indie rock, dance-punk, modern classical, and pop as a producer and songwriter. Throwing himself into all these worlds means he has mastered the dual strengths of defamiliarizing genre and committing to it when need be.

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The new Blood Orange mixtape, Angel’s Pulse, is the perfect platform for Hynes to execute this, balancing conflicting moods in an immaculately controlled environment. We get a bit of everything. By now, the difference between album and mixtape is slight, but the purpose of a mixtape is often more prelude than chart-topper. There aren’t any hard and fast rules about sampling or guests, but Hynes is accessing the fundamental freedom associated with the format. It’s impressively insular and totally personal, but don’t you dare claim that it’s tonally confused!

Even though the mixtape form grants him the license to explore radically oppositional styles and moods, Hynes does it in a way that’s simultaneously disorienting and utterly sensible. “Baby Florence (Figure)” is house-influenced, but not house. “I Wanna C U” is rock-influenced, but not rock. “Take It Back,” which features Arca, Joba, and Justine Skye, introduces two forces at odds. A wistful introductory piano progression is tempered by flat vocals in the verse, then reemphasized by Skye in the chorus. The two trade places, but as the track goes on, its hopeful vein is interrupted by the trademark horror and uncertainty of Arca’s vocals. Suddenly, the vocals that have been droning through the whole track infect everything, distorting and simplifying until there’s no return. Unlike a carefully phrased R&B track, this warping sound never comes up for air. The presence of vocal static and manipulation like this might be the only way to successfully incorporate Arca on a track. For the dread of it to come so close to without actually overwhelming is a successful exercise in restraint.

Dev Hynes, photo from presshere

What often holds this mixtape together is the chatter in the empty spaces. There’s a magic there in the ambient moments before and sometimes during tracks. It sounds like turning a radio dial at random and accepting the significance of whatever it lands on. It takes the pressure off the tracks and situates them in small spaces. “Benzo” starts in a place filled with indistinct voices. They don’t ever creep back in, but the set up of a certain place and a certain time lifts the track out of abstractness. “Happiness” does the same thing, but the vocal samples persist, working their way into the grooves of the track. Hynes is happy to invite in disparate voices for the good of the album. And they can’t be interpreted as random snippets. Rather, all the uncertain noise builds up a complex, central feeling like an unplaceable melancholy.

Angel’s Pulse is exciting because it promises less thesis than previous Blood Orange releases, yet still delivers one in the form of cross-stitched formal experiments. If you want a visual representation of this, look at the cover art. Two images are layered over each other, both of which are careful and complete compositions by themselves. One obscures the other, but we get both in some form. The album is proud to be fully realized, and the freedom of play only enhances it.

Score: A mixtape’s mixtape.

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