This is Hynes’ song-diary, filled to the margins with prototypes he might fashion into hits one day.
There are plenty of Prince comparisons to heap on Dev Hynes, many of them asked for. The technicolor guitar shredding, infinitely flexible voice and an undammable flow of songs are just a few examples, but the last point has come into its own over the last few years. Alongside his solo albums Freetown Sound and Negro Swan, he produced and wrote with (or for) Haim, Carly Rae Jepsen, Mac Miller and Mariah Carey. And somehow, he still wasn’t out of tunes. As he explained in the rollout for Angel’s Pulse, he invites musical friends over between projects and usually hides the results for his own uses. This is the first peer into his private world since Home Recordings Mixtape in 2011. However, the uneven results of Angel’s Pulse suggest he might need some more pruning in his vault before releasing.
Of course, this is the lowest of low stakes. Hynes has nothing to prove after the twin triumphs of Freetown Sound and Negro Swan. But, outside of the plush production, Angel’s Pulse feels like a demo collection more than a proper b-sides sanctuary. Hynes’ adventurous taste leads to thrilling unions on albums, but here it’s mostly dead ends. Songs cut out without warning, melodies appear at random, guests seem unsure of where they are. Hynes is clearly working on his own logic and expecting us to keep up.
These are sketches more than songs. Opener “I Wanna C U” is a stark Mac DeMarco slice of stoned pop that dissolves into the sub-minute “Something to Do,” which starts as a hazy guitar ballad before a chorus of freaked out guitars slather themselves all over the hushed background. If that sounds dizzying, you haven’t heard the half of it. Trap, ‘80s synth-squealers and IDM are all rattling through, without a hint of cohesion or a lick of sense. The faux-Anderson .Paak lounge of “Good For You” rams into the Drexciya on a budget click-clack of “Baby Florence (Figure).” The piss-take boom-bap of “Seven Hours Part 1” ruins the run in to the faded beauty of “Take it Back.” So it goes, Angel’s Pulse unable to keep a good idea going before detouring into an ill-advised whim.
Are there snippets here that could be fashioned into hits? Of course. Hynes’ knack for pop chops is nearly uncanny. Take the languid soul of “Birmingham,” which is just begging for a full church organ and gospel choir to make it swing. Or the sorrowful “Berlin,” which somberly bounces alongside Hynes’ fluttering falsetto. But “Birmingham” evaporates far too soon and lends too much of its time to Hynes’ rambling coo. And “Berlin” deserves so much more than the stark production here, lush strings and more harmonies are pleading to get in on the main melody.
It’s hard to fault Angel’s Pulse. More than anything, it’s the curtain being drawn back. This is Hynes’ song-diary, filled to the margins with prototypes he might fashion into hits one day. But for the time being, his vault is a slog.