Artists Of The Year CMU Approved

CMU Artists Of The Year 2013: Dev Hynes

By | Published on Friday 13 December 2013

Blood Orange

Each weekday in the run up to the Christmas break, we will reveal another of our ten favourite artists of the year. To see each artist as they’re revealed, sign up to receive the CMU Daily or check this page. Today’s artist is Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange…

If this were a ‘Producer Of 2012’ piece – which obviously it isn’t, but go with it – I’d probably be talking now about Sky Ferreira’s ‘Everything Is Embarrassing’ and Solange’s ‘Losing You’, both of which bear Dev Hynes’ writing/mixing/production fingerprints.

Precisely how deep those grooves go, in terms of Hynes’ role in and responsibility for the songs, versus the input of the women who sing them, is seemingly a point of difference between Hynes-the-producer and his ‘artistes’.

Both Solange and Ferreira have taken against certain portraits of them as Hynes’ muses, arguing that they, too, were instrumental in making the tracks what they are. I guess it comes down to ego; though Hynes’ act of sacrificing what are essentially his greatest creations because he knows – as a good producer should – that they’re better off tied to someone else’s voice, face and persona, suggests he’s concerned neither with ego nor glory.

I mention Hynes first in his context as producer, not only because it’s the base of all his latter work as an ‘artist’, but also because it’s damn hard to separate Dev the backstage technician from his public guise as a singer and performer. His second LP as Blood Orange, ‘Cupid Deluxe’, is very much a producer’s record; busy with drop-in-vocalists, switch-fiddling and spontaneity, which perhaps is real, perhaps all a smart artifice. Either way, that improvised, loose-ended ‘jam’ aesthetic is clearly what Hynes is going for.

We know (and he knows we know) that Hynes can make ‘hits’, but in the case of most of ‘Cupid Deluxe’ he’s choosing not to, seeing what sticks, keeping the vibe light and handing the mic to the likes of Skepta, Kindness’s Adam Bainbridge and, most often, to his girlfriend, Friends’ Samantha Urbani.

Indeed, although Hynes does have a go at singing, and supposedly plays every single instrument and makes near every single beat on the record, his position is primarily as a catalyst, a foil, an ‘enabler’, if you like, pitching his guests at the level at which they’re most effective, most useful even, in bringing his basic blueprints to life.

Bruised, sometimes needling and prone to waver, his voice isn’t the strongest, but he chooses to bring that frailty to light, even emphasising it by leaning it against, on LP intro ‘Chamakay’ for instance, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, who’s classically-trained and has the kind of range Hynes can only dream of.

He plays that card a lot, revelling in the camp, almost feminine quality to his vocals, and isn’t scared to show his scars, or to do a cringe-y ‘come hither’ spoken monologue on ‘Cupid Deluxe’ funk-interlude ‘Uncle Ace’. Hynes is a modern, modest man, guys, and makes no bones about that, nor of the fact that he’s an outsider (even more so, now he’s sans-Solange) looking in, and doing his best to interpret all he sees and feels.

An apt way to close this Hynes big up is probably to go ahead and play ‘Time Will Tell’, the fifteen minute finale to ‘Cupid Deluxe’. Dev says: “The song itself was recorded live in a one take. I ad-libbed the vocals recalling lyrics from songs of mine and a song by Adam Bainbridge (which he was unaware I was going to do). Adam was on the drum machine, Blue May on guitar, Sam Beste on piano, and Tawiah on backing vocals. I then took some of my vocals from towards the end and overlaid it as a backing vocal”.

And that’s how that was done.