Devonte Hynes has been on quite the musical journey over recent years, starting out as part of the ludicrously named Nu-Rave noisemakers Test Icicles before morphing into the under-rated multi-instrumental indie project Lightspeed Champion. It was with this act that we saw the beginnings of Hynes true talent emerge as he created an extended musical family around the project, (which included everyone from Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis to Florence Welch) while always maintaining a central position and vision. Alongside his 2 officially released albums as Lightspeed Champion, Hynes aslo notably began releasing a series of EPs, bootlegs and download only albums which in many ways reflected the fracturing of the old music industry model and positioned Hynes as something of a polymath talent.
Around the end of the Lightspeed Champion project, Hynes moved to New York and seemingly absorbed the city and it’s cultural history immediately into his sound and emerging from this change was the Blood Orange project. Seeped in 80’s funk, sun-bleached synth-pop and the minimal beats of early hip-hop Hynes has now released 3 albums of increasingly impressive, slinky retro cool, while on this new LP ‘Freetown Sound’ he seems to have made his boldest statement yet. Alongside his own songs Hynes has become something of a master-collaborator, particularly adept at writing for female vocalists. His co-writes with Solange and Carly Rae Jepsen are some of the finest retro-leaning pop songs of recent times so it’s no surprise that Freetown Sound is awash with strong female vocal talent and a distinctly feminist theme weaves through the songs. With big names like Debbie Harry and Nelly Furtado given equal status to emerging talents like Empress of and Ava Raiiin, plus Jepsen herself returning the favour, the record is deeply collaborative and yet very much Hynes vision.
The album is a long, sprawling affair with some songs ending unexpectedly or emerging from out of extended saxophone solos. At time it feels like we’re following Hynes as he dips in and out of various clubs, with overheard dialogue interrupting the groove and the general feeling of washed-out disco funk that permeates the record.
Hynes also weaves into the songs a second narrative about black identity and politics which align it with records like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly or Beyonce’s Lemonade, but while those albums are defiant and angry, Freetown Sound absorbs the politics into a general steamy stew of feminised, funky R&B that positions Hynes as a potential heir to the sadly departed Prince. It’s that good!