3 stars (out of 4)
Dev Hynes, the one-man band behind Blood Orange, is only 27, but he's already spent a decade breaking out of stylistic boxes. He's stirred up punky brio with U.K. band Test Icicles, written for rave giants Chemical Brothers and art-pop chanteuse Florence + the Machine, and ventured into lushly orchestrated introspection with Lightspeed Champion. As a producer, he's given a twist to new wave and R&B with Sky Ferreira and Solange.
On his second album as Blood Orange, "Cupid Deluxe" (Domino), Hynes drapes late-night anxiety over crisp rhythm tracks – a contrast that suggests a bustling, 24-hour cityscape filled with lonely drifters and misfits. The churning beats and clipped guitars of "Uncle Ace" suggests a subway train at 3 a.m., a needy voice acknowledging, "I've lost my sense of 'where'."
The setting is New York, and the soundtrack drifts between nostalgic, '80s signifiers — the narrator in "High Street" is annoyed by a faulty cassette player — and something a good deal less comforting. Smarmy period clichés sometimes intrude: saxophone oozes over reverbing electro-beats on "Chosen." But then a ghostly vocal restores the shiver-inducing vibe. The classic hip-hop drum loop in "Clipped On" dissolves into an obsessive mantra, "All I do is think about you."
It's an atmosphere soaked in deceptively mellow and melancholy neo-soul, another take on the worlds created by Sade's whispered regrets and the Weeknd's decadent obsessions. Like these artists, Hynes values rhythms that sway, but sings in a voice that sounds far removed from the dancefloor. As he croons in "It is What it Is," "You make me think I'm alive, when I'm alone."