Blood Orange: Negro Swan review – mercurial, woke, choppy R&B

(Domino)

While Blood Orange is ostensibly a solo moniker for pop polymath Dev Hynes – his second after Lightspeed Champion’s mopey indie-pop – it has always represented more of a collective. Like 2016’s excellent Freetown Sound – a 17-track fusion of the personal and political, assisted by Carly Rae Jepsen and Debbie Harry – the sprawling Negro Swan, his fourth as Blood Orange, carries the loose-fitting feel of a mixtape. Throughout, guest vocalists bubble to the surface, occasionally interspersed with snatches of found sounds, or the ominous swirl of a police siren. Its mercurial nature is both a blessing and a curse.

Like other recent albums keen to shed light on the black experience (Hynes has said Negro Swan is about “black depression … and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of colour”), it’s anchored by a narrator in the shape of Pose producer and transgender rights activist Janet Mock. Unlike, say, Lemonade or A Seat at the Table, however, Mock’s interludes often reiterate themes communicated far better in the songs themselves, most obviously on album highlight Charcoal Baby, which, in one line (“No one wants to be the odd one out”), makes Mock’s foreshadowing interlude Family feel redundant.

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