Artist Dev Hynes, better known as Blood Orange, has released his first mixtape, “Angel’s Pulse.” Although “Angel’s Pulse” sounds as heavenly and delicate as its title suggests, it’s also gloriously dark. Blood Orange, in his past works like “Negro Swan,” has explored various genres and political opinions. In “Angel’s Pulse,” he instills a profound level of honesty that acts as a score to the inner workings of his mind.
The amount of emotional depth weaved into each track is impressive. In this mixtape, Blood Orange doesn’t conceal anything in metaphors or analogies. Rather, he speaks his truth into existence through melodies. On “Angels Pulse,” he seamlessly blends a combination of classical influence and old school hip hop.
Pairing wailing cellos and Victorian-esque violins with rap influences conveys just how eccentric Blood Orange’s ear is. On track “Dark & Handsome,” featuring Toro y Moi, he uses the violin as his paintbrush to create a sensation of suffering. His voice is as light as the pluck of a string, but it carries so much pain and depth inside that it comes out as more of a plead.
He sings, “Losing touch of everything I know, praying for my heart to turn to stone. Bandana tied around my broken skull. Ice around my wrist, my touch is cold.”
The track is sonically soul-stirring and sorrowful with lyrics that embody numbness. Blood Orange creates a cinematic soundtrack that covers long stretches of dark days in agony. His lyrics reveal that he is so overcome with loss and sadness that he can’t get himself to feel anything. The merging of rap and classical instrumentation comes alive on this track.
He completely changes the tone without losing the song’s effect. Featured artist Toro y Moi speaks softly on the track but with attitude, as if he is bringing Blood Orange back down to Earth. He raps, “Don’t be acting dumb, cookies are going to crumble. S—t is broken by design, it’s a tantrum.”
Toro y Moi and Blood Orange hint on how fleeting and uncontained everything is in life, including death. Blood Orange spoke about the intended meaning of this track on an Apple Music feature.
“I feel like I really got the feeling and emotion out that had been bubbling around in my mind,” he said. “Really, honestly, it’s about grief — grief, death, and suicide. Those are the three things this song is meditating on.”
“Angel’s Pulse” forces you to feel and honor your emotions, and it asks you to abandon the ones that are no longer serving you. Given the current technological status that society has entered with social media, it’s all about illusion, and integrity is often in question. Blood Orange challenges the status quo by bringing back an authenticity that is agenda free.
Pop culture and music today can feel stifled with premeditated ideologies and programmed messages, but “Angel’s Pulse” shines with organic identity. The track “Birmingham” rummages once again through grief, and its sense of loss is so strong that it multiplies as you move through it.
The song acts as a tribute to the four little girls who were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. The lyrics are a rendition of the poem, “Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall. Blood Orange produced the track, but his voice is not featured on it.
The poem is told through the mother’s perspective — she is searching frantically for her babies amongst the decay and burnt wood. The mourning and panic of a mother’s heart is translated by the passionate vocals of Kelsey Lu accompanied by Ian Isiah.
Lu sings slowly, “She raced through the streets of Birmingham, calling for her child. She clawed through the bits of glass and brick, then lifted out a shoe. Oh, here’s the shoe my baby wore, but baby, where are you?”
Although this isn’t Blood Orange’s personal anguish, he instills a sense of universal grief that comes with living life as an African American.
On “Benzo,” the loss takes on the form of ego death. The saxophone and cello meet and caress one another in riffs of pure instrumentation. Blood Orange says little with his words on the track, but what he does say is memorable. His lyrics reflect contemplation of how much power he allows his ego to have over him.
He speaks on how much he craves validation by others to reach acceptance.
“I saw, oh I see, nothing that is confident to me. Feelings that are not supposed to be. What’s worse? Ego? Thinking that it’s something that you’re owed. Listen to the fears that you hear now.”
Blood Orange revealed what these lyrics were meant to reflect: “It’s about feeling like no one sees your worth while at the same time knowing that’s a lack of self-worth anyway. I was in that circular thought process.”
“Angel’s Pulse” takes you to newfound moments inside Blood Orange’s psyche after hours. Each song laments and mourns life and happiness. The album recognizes that a mind that wanders frantically is one that can also search for meaning and purpose amongst destruction. Blood Orange’s devotion to authenticity comes through as a desire to express and heal.
At its core, “Angel’s Pulse” is about being honest with what feels authentic to you. Authenticity is about honoring negative emotions, embracing fears and understanding that these are natural realities that accompany life.
In his session with Apple Music, Blood Orange reaffirmed that “Angel’s Pulse” is meant to capture his life. His music reflects politically and emotionally charged moments in accordance to his identity.
“As someone who has struggled with sexuality, who is black, who grew up in Essex and Barking, then moved to New York City. Someone who is thirty-three and lived before the internet and after. Someone who is living in a time when just buying a coffee is political, my music will of course be political, but it’s a diary, not an agenda. My goal is just to be honest.”