Dev Hynes’ ‘Fields’ fails to impress listeners

Devonte Hynes and Third Coast Percussion

Fields

Cedille Records · October 11, 2019


Dev Hynes subverts the jack-of-all-trades trope by managing to master them all. Whether working with bigger names like Mariah Carey and Solange or creating his own works under the names of Lightspeed Champion and Blood Orange, it is without a doubt that Hynes is one of the most creative musicians working today. In his latest endeavor, Fields, Hynes collaborates with Third Coast Percussion to create a record filled with classical, ambient beats. 

Unlike the rest of his works, this is the first album released that he doesn’t actually sing on. Instead, Hynes takes a stab at composing this hour-long album and allows Third Coast Percussion to take full control over the musicianship. Over the course of an hour, Fields contrasts light and dark themes against an overall ambience. Despite this, the album falls flat. Hynes’ work is typically able to captivate listeners for the entire album, regardless of length. This album doesn’t really build upon itself or expand to something moreinstead, it meanders aimlessly and fails to keep the listener engaged. 

The majority of the album comprises of an eleven song suite, “For All Its Fury: I-XI.”  The first three songs set the tone of the album, but it’s a drawn out, unappealing process. After eight minutes of repetitive, unengaging percussion, the album finally begins to build. 

The transition from “III. Coil” into “IV. Wane” is both sonically excellent and also the first captivating moment of the album. “Wane” continues to excite by introducing new sonic elements and a darker motif, keeping the song interesting and making it distinct from its predecessors. The next two songs follow right on the coattails of “Wane;” they’re each under two minutes and though they don’t allow enough time for anything particularly awe-inspiring to happen, are still both pleasant to listen to. 

“VII. Gather” is nearly six minutes in its entirety and serves almost as the midway point through the album. This song is the longest of the “For All Its Fury” suite and one of the most structurally scattered. Over the span of the song, a musical evolution attempts to push both the song and album forward; however, this isn’t very effective. A new musical motif is introduced roughly every minute, but without connection and interaction. Instead, it seems as if the song bounces from one idea to the next, leaving the listener utterly lost in the end. The remaining songs in this portion of the album aren’t much different than the aforementioned just a continuation of seemingly aimless chimes from xylophones and glockenspiels. 

The listener is finally rewarded upon listening to “X. Press,” the standout piece of this record. “Press” feels like it has a purpose; it starts off with strong intent and continues to build as the song progresses. The song has dimension and is delightful for the senses, but it feels almost as if it’s too little, too late. 

Fields ends with “Perfectly Voiceless” and “There Was Nothing, which span over 25 minutes combined. After spending the majority of the album listening to shorter songs with brief and inconsistent themes, it is hard to sit through and engage with songs that are over 11 and 13 minutes in length, respectively. If anything, these final pieces serve as an ambient come-down from the first eleven songs. 

Overall, this album is certainly the most distinctive work from Hynes to date. However, classical composition is a feat he has yet to master. It fits the contemporary ambient aesthetic, but fails to impress like his other works. This album lacks the listenability of a typical Blood Orange record, but it serves well as music for studying, if nothing else. If Hynes chooses to continue classical composition, it would be nice to see him implement the elements that made his other works so great. Without them, we are left with more of the same dilemma presented by this album: songs without a purpose. 

Listen to Fields:

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