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Pitchfork: Best New Music
Devonté Hynes' genre-hopping career has been nothing if not an exploration of identity. So if Hynes' time with Test Icicles represents early teenage angst, and Lightspeed Champion is the melancholic bewilderment of the early twenties, then surely Blood Orange is the assured, almost full-blown, adult? Not quite. Although the quest for personal discovery never truly ends, there comes a time when we stop looking inward and begin to question our place in the wider picture, fraught with injustice, prejudice, and peers who are just as lost. The struggle with identity and its interaction with the world is perfectly captured within the 17 tracks of Freetown Sound; often confusing, with multiple overlapping thoughts, the album charts a parallel course through Hynes' personal reflections on race and gender, and his impetus to call out the obstacles shared by all those who consider themselves outsiders.
Hynes' reflection is far-reaching, going all the way back to the capital of Sierra Leone's complex history -- where his father was born -- for its thematic roots. The complex tapestry is woven from the present, though, "Augustine" being a fine example of this as Hynes discusses his parents, his current situation, and the effect that Christianity has had on all of their lives. He quotes Saint Augustine, references Trayvon Martin, and even sings in Krio toward the end; that's all achieved in less than five minutes. Considering that the album clocks in at around an hour, it's easy to imagine the overall density. There are so many ideas, guest appearances, and samples that Hynes transcends the concept of a personal record; Freetown Sound is the closest you'll get to being Devonté Hynes' mind, body, and soul. Such a complex experience makes the first listen challenging; the first half of the album swims past in a woozy, yet harmonious, deluge of expressions, thoughts, and feelings. Initially, latching onto something concrete proves difficult, but around halfway the picture becomes a little more focused. "Hands Up" and "Hadron Collider" mark the change; the latter track, with its standout guest vocal from Nelly Furtado, shines in particular.
There are so many collaborators here, but none really stand out like Samantha Urbani or Skepta did on Cupid Deluxe. They instead seem to represent the circle of influence and influencers present in Hynes' life; there's always been an argument that identity is a reflection of the company you keep. The number of guests present, whether with full vocals or just short clips, only goes to show how far Hynes has expanded his sphere in the last three years. The record is so personal that the only one able to understand every layer is Hynes himself. As a result, Freetown Sound can come across as weighty, indecipherable chaos to some. But for anyone who can relate to him on some level, it's hard not to be in awe of a man as complicated as Devonté Hynes being able to compose such an insightful, personal experience. ~ Liam Martin