Sweltering with the heat of a Brooklyn pavement at the height of summer, ‘Freetown Sound’ is the full documentation of Dev Hynes’ transition from scrappy post-punk wonder-kid to slinky New York vintage store aficionado. As a result, it’s frustratingly piecemeal – his evermore-complex mind-set battling against itself for attention throughout.
When one element breaks through, it’s dazzling. ‘Love Ya’ pairs twinkling electronics with a duelling sax solo in a way that’s pure 30 degree heat. Dev’s choices of samples and sound bites, too, couldn’t be more prescient – everything from female empowerment to the anxieties of being a young black man in an America plagued by increasingly seismic racial tensions gets a look in. They’re perfectly interwoven with the more personal aspects of ‘Freetown Sound’ – the everyday struggles of love and life buoyed by an almost otherworldly, neo-soul backing.
There are times when it’s all a bit too much, mind. ‘I Know’ is so wet it shows up the Atlantic, Dev’s croon slipping a little too close to creepiness. Elsewhere, the tumbling rhythmic exchange of ‘But You’ eventually peels back to reveal the record’s most soaring chorus, but its sole sentiment – “You are special in your own way” – couldn’t be more cloying.
That’s the frustration of ‘Freetown Sound’ – a record packed full of invention, innovation and perfectly executed production flourishes that would make even the most hardened major label crony sweat, it almost crumbles under the weight of its half-finished ideas. There’s little doubt that every element’s been agonised over by Hynes, ever the perfectionist. At an hour in length, though, and spewing at the seams with new sounds and concepts, ‘Freetown Sound’ is more a vessel for Dev Hynes’ production prowess than Blood Orange’s flag in the sand.