Blood Orange Synth Sounds
Blood Orange is the project of British musician Devonté Hynes, a fusion of 80s tinged electronica and R&B. Hynes sound is warm and full of nostalgia, and he has a talent for catchy hooks and grooves. With Blood Orange, Hynes sings, plays guitar, bass, synth, piano, saxophone and drums, as well as undertaking production duties. He contributed the score to the 2013 film Palo Alto, and also wrote Sky Ferreira’s mega-hit Everything Is Embarrassing. Hynes appears to use a variety of synths in his performances, including the Korg Minilogue seen in the music video for Saint, and a Roland Juno-106 in his NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert. For all of the patches in the article I’ll use the synth TAL U-NO-LX, a software emulation of the Roland Juno synths. As always, you can download all the patches for free at the end of the article.
You’re Not Good Enough
Let’s start with You’re Not Good Enough, from 2013’s Cupid Deluxe. The synth patch introduced during the chorus is simple, using a muted sawtooth waveform run through a chorus effect to add warmth. To create the synth patch, open TAL U-NO-LX and turn off the sub oscillator. Lower the cutoff frequency’s fader to the halfway point. Switch the VCA mode to ‘ENV’ with the ADSR’s release fader set at the halfway point, which will prevent chords cutting off suddenly when you release the keys. Finally, turn on the Chorus II effect to add warmth and stereo space to the patch.
In Dagenham Dream, from 2018’s Negro Swan, you can hear the same patch, only slightly more muted and processed with a heavy lo-fi vibrato effect. Use the same patch from You’re Not Good Enough, but set both the HPF and LPF’s cutoffs to the 4 mark, which will filter out more frequencies. Set the filters ‘KEYB’ fader to 0, which will turn off the filters keyboard tracking, effectively making the higher notes just as filtered as the bass notes. To recreate the tape-style lo-fi vibrato effect, you can use XLN Audio’s RC-20 Retro Color plugin, using the Vinyl 3 preset as a starting point and reducing the amount of noise. Alternative, you could use Soundtoys EchoBoy as a tape simulator, or ELPHNTs free TAPE device for Ableton Live.
Best to You
Best to You opens with more warm synth chords. For this patch, turn on the sub oscillator and set the volume to 2, adding some low-end. Set the filter’s envelope fader to 3, VCA mode to gate, decay to 3, and sustain to 0. This will add some filter movement to the patch, where the attack portion of the sound is bright, but the sustain part is darker. Set the keyboard tracking fader in the filter section to halfway to emphasize the low-end. Lastly, use the Chorus II effect and run the patch through some sweet sounding reverb.
The synth in Jewelry takes a brassier approach, using the filter envelope to create the a great synth-brass effect. IN TAL U-NO-LX, set the sub oscillator, cutoff frequency and envelope amount faders to 4, which will add low-end and filter modulation. Now set the VCA mode to envelope and set up the ADSR envelope as follows. Set attack to 6, for a noticeable fade-in. Set decay to 9 and sustain to 6, creating a long but subtle fade out. Finally, release should be set to 7, which will let the chord continue to fade out as you let go of the keys. Check out how it sounds in the video below!
The synth sound in Saint is different to the previous patches we’ve looked at, in that it is much thinner and airer sounding. Turn off the sawtooth oscillator and switch on the square wave oscillator this time. Set the oscillators modulation source to LFO and raise the PW fader to halfway. In the LFO section, set the trig mod to free and the rate to the 2 mark. This will adjust the pulse-width of the square oscillator at the rate of the LFO, creating a much richer sound than a static square wave. Set up the ADSR envelope with attack at 2, decay at 8, no sustain and release set to halfway. Use the Chorus I effect for this patch, which is a cleaner chorus with less stereoization than Chorus II. You can also use a post-processing delay with repeats synced to 1/8 notes, as they are in the original track.
Charcoal Baby uses the Juno-106’s portamento abilities to create gliding synth chords that flow smoothly into each other. The Juno’s polyphonic portamento is somewhat unpredictable, as notes slides from the last note played by a specific voice. Using the preset we created for You’re Not Good Enough as a starting point, go to the portamento section at the bottom of the interface and activate the poly button, for polyphonic portamento. Set the mode switch to II and raise the time fader to 5, for a medium length glide. Now when you play chords, the pitch will shift from the pitch of the previously played chord, a cool effect!
Thanks for reading! Click the button below for the free download of all the TAL U-NO-LX presets, and feel free to use them in your own music, or to inspire new songs.
If you want to dig deeper into these sounds, check out my brand new Patreon page to get access to the MIDI files, multitrack stems, effects chain notes, and Ableton Projects from all the recreations in the article.