Lightspeed Champion, born Devonte Hynes in Houston, Texas, before his family moved to Essex, England, when he was 2, is on heavy rotation on my iPod these days. His album, Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You — a recent discovery despite the fact that it came out in February — is a follow-up to his 2008 critically acclaimed debut, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge. Fine, y’all know where to send my late pass.
That said, what I like about Life Is Sweet is its literate mélange of pop, rock and classical touches. Hynes announces his songwriting ability immediately with the first track when he begins “Dead Head Blues” with this announcement: “Nothing seemed to be happening but a shift from your world.” And it’s a line that doesn’t portend well: He goes on to sing affectingly about his realization that the woman he pined for has fallen in love with someone else.
Hynes mixes the baroque with the operatic on “The Big Guns of Highsmith,” where the piano line highsteps throughout the song. He adds a Queen-like flourish when he sings, “Hurts to be the one who’s always feeling sad,” and a male chorus retorts, “Oh, just stop complaining!”
What’s poignant about this album is the extent to which Hynes seems riddled with restlessness and insecurity. It’s an album full of longing for connection, while at the same time, Hynes seems to have his eye on the next destination. He’s the nerdy black guy who, more often than not, says the wrong thing to the girl. Or, worse, he leaves but then wants to be taken back. No one can have it both ways, but that doesn’t seem to stop Hynes from trying.
What Hynes pulls off is exuberance rather than the maudlin. He shows himself to be a fine songwriter and song craftsman. His ability hasn’t gone unnoticed. He’s had a song on the soundtrack for the film MacGruber and is now in the studio with Solange Knowles. If she’s ever to step out of the voluptuous shadow of her sister, the 24-year-old Lightspeed Champion just might be the one to show her the way.
This review originally appeared on TheRoot.com on September 30, 2010.