Dev Hynes is a busy guy. In the 3 years since his last release Cupid Deluxe, Hynes has largely remained in the background, striving to subtly redirect modern pop conventions, while also leaving his footprint in pretty much any cultural happening he comes across. From working with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Carly Rae Jepsen and Connan Mockasin, to performing at New York’s Apollo Theatre, giving a TED talk on synaesthesia, and producing the soundtrack to Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto, Dev Hynes is the embodiment of the bohemian Brooklynite. Freetown Sound is the portrait of a restless, unquenchable auteur at the height of his game.
In 2015, Hynes also released 2 slices of cultural commentary in the form of singles ‘Do You See My Skin Through the Flames?’ and ‘Sandra’s Smile,’ which detailed his growing sense of helplessness and frustration with the lassitude of those around him in the face of police injustice and racism. Freetown Sound lurks in the shadow of these same sentiments; a rallying cry for the oppressed in a dangerous, oppressing world, about facing the adversity of discrimination and holding your head high and proud in the face of it. As Dev said himself: “My album is for everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way … it’s a clapback.”
A surprisingly cohesive mess of an album, it is a sprawling, all-encompassing audio scrapbook of everything the omnivorous singer-songwriter has gathered so far, both thematically and musically. Just two tracks in, and the album flits between a speech from slam poet Ashlee Haze on the empowering effect of Missy Elliot’s music, references to Saint Augustine and West African religious leader Nontetha Nkwenkwe, and observations of life in New York told through the perspective of Hynes’ parents. The outro to ‘Augustine’ is even sung in Krio, the predominant language of Sierra Leone, where Hynes’ father is from (and also where the album gets its title). This voracious attitude of discovery lends the album a dizzying yet rewarding listen.
Despite juggling so much, the album is smooth and flows brilliantly. The production, which is a silky blend of funk, R&B, jazz and dream pop, drapes the album in a hazy melancholy when paired with the solemn subject matter, while small flourishes like the pummeling electro breakdown in ‘E.V.P.’ or the murky guitar solo in ‘Hands Up’ keep things fresh. Even subdued funk balled ‘But You’ is such a shimmering delight that it manages to lift the clichéd sentiment “you are special in your own way” into cheesily brilliant new heights.
A kaleidoscopic summation of Dev Hynes’ life and thoughts post-Cupid Deluxe, Freetown Sound plays out like a diary in the form of a mixtape, both deeply personal and holistic. He raises many questions without providing clear-cut answers, but in laying out his fears and insecurities for all to see, Hynes finds strength in the midst of systemic oppression, and creates a deeply resonating and damn catchy album as a result.
Freetown Sound is available now via Domino Records