Photo: Nick Harwood / Courtesy of Domino Records

Blood Orange’s New Mixtape ‘Angel’s Pulse’ Is Like a Thick Soup

How do you navigate the personal murk of every day, or in the political climate that hates you? Blood Orange's Angel's Pulse is a "mixtape" that sounds like how it might feel to live underwater.

Angel's Pulse
Blood Orange
12 July 2019

How do you make it through the thick and heavy? How do you navigate the personal murk of every day, or in the political climate that hates you? Angel’s Pulse is Devonté Hynes’ latest project under Blood Orange, a “mixtape” that sounds like how it might feel to live underwater. On last summer’s Negro Swan, Hynes swims in Black depression, wings barely flapping over anxious waters. Angel’s Pulse isn’t much of a departure from the muddy knife of Negro Swan, but maybe that’s okay.

Angel’s Pulse is a mixtape mainly because of its choppy transitions between tracks. The songs all kind of sound the same — sludgy, sloshing, and weird, but then there are those sweet little jangly effects powdered over all the soft bits. It turns out an angel’s pulse is haphazard but oh, so drowsy. Each track body slams into the next, none of them have any sense of space. And almost all the lyrics hit like a very hard, meaningful finger poke in the stomach.

Hynes’ voice, which is reedy and uncomfortable, stands out amidst hollow trap drums, like on “Dark & Handsome”. This track has a Toro y Moi feature that provides the unexpected texture of a bad dream with his voice pitched down as he declares he is, “Wipin’ up the crumbs, I do this shit casual / Happens all the time.” This line is delivered off-handedly, casually, but there’s something painfully childlike about wiping up the crumbs of your crumbled cookie (“Don’t be actin’ dumb, cookie’s gonna crumble”). You get used to little pains, don’t you? They happen all the time.

“Benzo” is another sugary gauche tune, with Hynes’ voice peeking out behind pretty, lifting vocal harmony, declaring that “Outside, I saw where I belong.” A glimpse of being outside is then introduced in “Baby Florence (Figure)”, which in very literal “outside” fashion, begins with the hurried spurt of a police siren. This song is a depressed samba where Hynes promises that “Our vacant sounds can help you figure it out.” Hynes identifies as a group here, “our”, but he’s still vacant. They’re all vacant. You can belong outside, where it’s open and free, and still be vacant.

“Gold Teeth” comes right after “Baby Florence” and sounds like the party you and your friends throw to celebrate your inside vacancy. The drums on this track kick with plucky reassurance, but nothing is as cooly enticing as Tinashe’s steely “Cold at night / Ignore my phone / No reply” refrain that butters over the rumble of Project Pat and Gangsta Boo’s unyielding verses.

This mixtape is filled with features (the already mentioned Toro y Moi, Porches, the smooth, frequent collaborator Ian Isiah, BennY RivivaL, among others), but the most interesting smattering comes in “Take It Back”, which houses the unlikely grouping of Venezuelan producer and Björk collaborator Arca, Brockhampton’s Joba, and emerging R&B songstress Justine Skye. This song drones and drones on. It’s like taking a Benadryl when you can’t fall asleep. There’s a halfhearted looping clap, as Skye and Hynes talk over each other, almost as an afterthought that “I’ve been fucked so the odds aren’t even.”

When Arca comes in, the layers of drums cycle through filters, like they’re molting, bouncing off of Hynes heavy-eyed assurance that “Started smirking, system broken.” Joba is the angriest part of this song, his delivery slipping with reverb. And then, he’s defeated in his last line — “My reflected image vanished in an instant.”

Angel’s Pulse is reminiscent of soup. A thick soup. A lot of these tracks feel directionless, monotonous, or like scraps. But still, there’s something that makes you want to enter them. They’re a bunch of staccato dreams you have during a fitful nap. You can’t sleep for days. You find yourself in the haze.

RATING 7 / 10