No matter what your favorite genre is, Blood Orange has probably worked with some of its stars. Over the past decade or so, the musician born Dev Hynes has developed an enviable portfolio of producing and songwriting credits for artists as varied as Solange, Tyler, the Creator, Kylie Minogue, FKA twigs, Carly Rae Jepsen, Florence and The Machine and ASAP Rocky. He worked on Mac Miller's final album. He even collaborated with Mariah Carey on her 2018 LP Caution, one of the singer's better albums from this decade. And, of course, in between his projects with other artists, he's made solo work that similarly ignores genre conventions, offering poignant examples of why his musical guidance is so highly sought after.
Less than a year after the release of his fourth album Negro Swan, Blood Orange returned last week with a new mixtape called Angel's Pulse, which was intended as an "epilogue" to his 2018 record. It's a bit looser and more relaxed than much of the music he's released under the Blood Orange moniker; Angel's Pulse allows him to demonstrate all the sounds and styles he's mastered over his years of constant collaborating. Over the course of its 14 tracks, the mixtape is messy yet mesmerizing, bridging vast gaps between genres from screwy Houston rap to funk. It makes sense because in all his collaborations, that's sort of the role he's played, bringing together different worlds into one alluring and mystifying aesthetic.
Angel's Pulse is the first Blood Orange release that Hynes is calling a mixtape, which seems to be a sign of Blood Orange starting to allow himself the freedom to experiment with a variety of different sounds without the formal structure of a proper album. His more humble approach is aimed at creating a more subdued yet enjoyable listening experience.
"I just want people, if they hear it, to enjoy it," Hynes said in a Vulture interview, referencing how relaxed the process was for making the mixtape. "I don't want them to have to think about anything else."
Angel's Pulse is, consequently, a more low-key offering, which is the first for a Blood Orange project. His previous albums often felt like intentional reflections of the cultural moments in which they were made. 2016's Freetown Sound, which included spoken word by slam poet Ashlee Haze and vocal clips of interviews with Vince Staples and Ta-Nehisi Coates, amplified the gems of Black culture at time in which Donald Trump was running for president and at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. Last year's Negro Swan, which featured narration from the activist and writer Janet Mock, celebrated queer people of color.
Angel's Pulse offers something different—though no less engaging. It feels like a testing ground for new ideas and for playing around with the diversity of sounds that inform his genre-bending approach.
An early standout comes in the form of the Toro y Moi-featuring "Dark & Handsome," which highlights the uniquely soothing vocals that Blood Orange has honed over years of toying with R&B tropes. On the song, he laments that he wants more than what he currently has. "Losin' touch of everything I know, prayin for my heart to turn to stone," Hynes sings on the chorus, introducing the mixtape's gloomy vibe. Throughout the song, Hynes shows off his more disheartened side, which is a common mood throughout his projects. However, Toro y Moi's verse gives the single a more braggadocious mood as he raps about how his looks are a main reason for his relationship troubles: "Wipin' up the crumbs, I do this shit casual, happens all the time, plus I'm dark and handsome," illustrating Hynes' intent on exploring a variety of feelings throughout the project.
"Birmingham," an odd yet delightful gospel selection on the mixtape, heightens the project's sorrowful undertones. The single alludes to the pain of Denise McNair, whose daughter was one of the four girls killed in the 1963 white supremacist bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. While it's not clear why this particular event was on Blood Orange's mind, the single illustrates how gospel music is another piece that encompasses his sound. Also, the song's spiritual energy blends perfectly with Ian Isiah's vocals, which feel reminiscent of Black Baptist choirs.
The mixtape gradually moves from that traumatic moment, to "Good for You," a song about the pressures of being in a relationship, which initially seems like an unusual transition. But, a part of Blood Orange's talents is in smoothing rough edges, making even the boldest jumps feel natural.
On "Gold Teeth," Blood Orange informs listeners on how southern hip-hop has influenced him by enlisting Three 6 Mafia's Gangsta Boo and Project Pat. Seeing Gangsta Boo's name credited on a Blood Orange mixtape in 2019 is nothing short of exciting, but the final product is effortlessly great too. It's a testament both to the big rolodex Hynes has built over his years as an in-demand songwriter, and to just how natural a collaborator is. The song comes with a final twist that keeps it from just being Southern rap pastiche—Tinashe's gaspy vocals— which shows he's willing to add new wrinkles to even well-trod sounds. The song offers a more gleeful feeling to the mixtape, illustrating that music isn't limited to just one emotion.
Elsewhere BennY RevivaL shines on the experimental "Seven Hours Part 1," and BROCKHAMPTON's Joba makes an appearance on "Take It Back," which shows just how wide Angel's Pulse's stylistic ambitions are. Even if it was made with humble intentions, and it's a little more blurry around the edges than we're used to from Blood Orange projects, it's clearly a worthy entry in his catalog. Angel's Pulse an epilogue, sure, but it tells its own story.