English musician Devonte Hynes, better known as Blood Orange, gives listeners a glance into his stream of consciousness with the quick follow up to his 2018 critically acclaimed album Negro Swan. Angel’s Pulse features his widest variety of featured guests to date including Toro y moi, Kelsey Lu, as well as Joba of Brockhampton fame.
Being described by Hynes as an epilogue mixtape to Negro Swan is fitting considering the track list’s lack of cohesive flow and wide array of musical palettes.
The opening track, “I Wanna C U” sets the listener up to expect a different sound from the vast soundscapes of Negro Swan. While this track serves nicely as the album opener with its warm guitars and vocals, it fails to leave a real impression due to its short length.
“Dark & Handsome” featuring contemporary Toro y Moi is the first standout track with its hypnotic keyboard panning between the left and right channels. Hynes’ lyrics discuss themes of coping with the deaths of loved ones, most prominently in the line, “Crying for the ones I lost in ’18,” alluding to the passing of Mac Miller, a longtime friend whose last album Self-Care was co-written by Hynes.
“Benzo” is another outstanding track with its smooth saxophone and drum beat that would fit perfectly in a lounge setting. The song begins with a background conversation that adds the feeling that it’s being played right in front of you. The only downside to this track is its abrupt ending which left me wishing it was longer.
“Birmingham” is an abrupt change of pace following “Benzo.” It’s a stunning rendition of a 1963 poem titled ‘Ballad of Birmingham,’ featuring Kelsey Lu on vocals. Ian Isaiah takes over vocals halfway through, which only serves to elevate the song’s emotions to greater heights. This track continues the political themes found on Negro Swan as the poem is based on the bombing of a black church during the Civil Rights Movement.
“Gold Teeth” displays Hynes love for old school hip hop, featuring Project Pat, Tinashe and Gangsta Boo of Three 6 Mafia. Pat’s verses are braggadocios and his in your face vocals fit the instrumental perfectly. Gangsta Boo’s lines are just as boastful and Tinashe’s background vocals smooth out the track nicely.
“Take it Back,” the longest cut on the record, has a late-night feel to it with its hazy synthesizers and shimmering keys. Hynes and Justine Skye’s vocals add to songs hypnotizing feel. The song then gives way to a sensual verse from Venezuelan producer/singer Arca in Spanish with a beat that is vaguely reminiscent of Deerhunter’s “Earthquake.” The introduction of glitchy synthesizers and Joba’s lyrics, “That shit will see right through it, one shot to make it through it / See, I’m a bit manic depressive,” evoke a feeling of anxiousness.
Angel’s Pulse highlights Hynes’ versatility and chemistry with a wide variety of guests from all across the musical landscape. However, with 14 tracks and at just over 30 minutes in length, many tracks are left feeling like unfinished demos with the potential for so much more had they been worked on longer.
Still, the highlights here are some of Hynes’ best to date which makes it all the more disappointing that all the songs didn’t get the same treatment. That is what ultimately stops this good album from being a great one.