With their sack-of-cats-tumbling-down-a-fire-escape sound and their frankly ridiculous name, dance-punk outfit Test Icicles never seemed like a long-term proposition from the moment they arrived on the mid-noughties music scene. And so it proved: the band split less than six months after the release of their first and last album, For Screening Purposes Only.
It would have been understandable if Test Icicles’ three members had slinked out of the music industry for good. But one Test Icicle, the Texan guitarist and co-vocalist Devonté Hynes, carried on writing and recording music and quietly became a figure of influence and importance. Under the name of Lightspeed Champion he’s already released twice as many albums as Test Icicles; in addition, he’s written and produced music for Basement Jaxx, Florence And The Machine, Solange Knowles and Diana Vickers.
Hynes has also found time to create music under another pseudonym: Blood Orange. Determining the dividing line between Hynes’ Lightspeed Champion and Blood Orange personae is tricky: while Lightspeed Champion’s music is eclectic, Coastal Grooves – Blood Orange’s first full LP after sporadic internet giveaways – is nominally his “dance” project. But Coastal Grooves isn’t really a dance record: it just happens to be sleeker, slicker and more focused than Lightspeed Champion’s work to date.
Since he emerged from the wreckage of Test Icicles, Hynes has evolved rapidly into an accomplished singer, musician and arranger. For full shock value, compare Your Biggest Mistake – the batshit crazy first track from Test Icicles’ For Screening Purposes Only – with Forget It, the opening song from Coastal Grooves. While Your Biggest Mistake is the musical equivalent of the Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil character, Forget It is all politeness and restraint: there’s an effetely chugging guitar, sensitive vocals and a short, expertly delivered guitar solo.
For this album Hynes claims to have drawn inspiration from “the identity-blurring work of transgender icons such as Octavia St Laurent and the nihilism of Gregg Araki movies” as well as the “seedy yet inspirational New York night time”. That sounds like an alluring set of influences: if only they were audible in the ensuing music. Coastal Grooves is a perfectly listenable yet almost entirely forgettable album: one that’s more redolent of an afternoon spent ambling around Winchester than a night careering around Williamsburg.
At times – especially during the album’s soporific middle section – it seems that Hynes has accidentally chanced upon a new genre: Zen music, whose sheer dullness induces the listener into a meditative state. There’s a distinct lack of hooks, pace, drama, excitement or anything that would prevent this album sinking meekly into the background of whatever environment it finds itself played in.
Coastal Grooves’ one wholly compelling song is its closer Champagne Coast, the best thing here by a country mile. It boasts the one melody on the album that truly sticks: a slinky little number that appears halfway through, after the first one has exhausted its options. Better still, the song captures the nocturnal sleaziness that’s hyped up in the album’s press release.
It’s a shame that Hynes’ songwriting chops haven’t developed as quickly as his musical skills. But this shouldn’t put the brakes on Hynes’ progress: Coastal Grooves might be a forgettable, minor work, but Hynes’ career to date proves that he shouldn’t be written off easily.