On July 10th, 2012, Frank Ocean posted on his website the link to iTunes to download the digital copy of his new album Channel Orange and simultaneously the blogosphere exploded. The album, which is the highly anticipated major label follow up to his extremely popular mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, was officially planned to be released on 7/17/2012, but in an interview with BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe, Ocean said:
“It was actually the plan all along, I kind of wanted to mirror what Jay (Z) and Kanye (West) did with Watch The Throne preventing the leak by staggering digital and physical dates.”
This tactic is, not only critical in today’s digital dominant music world but, it’s even stirred up a little controversy with big box retailer Target refusing to carry the hard copy of the album. In this writers personal opinion, I bought the album off iTunes and will absolutely pick up the vinyl copy when it comes out. It’s that good.
Ocean, rose to the public’s attention when he released Nostalgia, Ultra in February 2011, a mixtape that he allowed the public to download for free, which if you listen to it you realize that the term stealing never felt so literal, but maybe that was the point. Standout tracks include the Coachella shout-out “Novacane”, the excellently narrated “Songs 4 Women” and a heartbreak number called “Swim Good”. The whole record is quality, even the songs that include direct samples from other artists songs. Proving how good this album really is, Ocean sampled Coldplay’s song, “Strawberry Swing”, named his song the same title and now he’s opening up for the band on a European stretch of their tour.
To call Frank Ocean an R&B singer is unjustly, as a fan of the genre, it would make sense to classify some of his songs that way, but his music breaks away from the classic themes commonly found in today’s R&B artists. In the same BBC interview, he said about his approach when making the album,“I wanted to do things that I hadn’t done before, structurally with songs. I wanted to go different places, sonically, that I haven’t gone before.” Channel Orange is pieced together in a way that acts like a musical narrative to a week in the life of Beverly Hills days and Hollywood nights. In fact, it could serve as the perfect soundtrack to a graphic novel of the same name, if only that existed.
“Pyramids” a near 10-minute single he released early on, starts off as a dance-club banger taking place in ancient Egypt and shifts time periods around the halfway mark to a slowed down tale about his relationship with a stripper named Cleopatra and it’s the perfect turning point for the album. “Super Rich Kids”, with it’s super catchy no-rhyme chorus, “Bennie and The Jets” piano-style driven beat and the Mary J. Blige reference reminds me of R. Kelly at his best. Along with Earl Sweatshirt’s excellent plotted rap verse, this is the definition of convertible music, as long as it’s a Bentley.
The way too short “Fertilizer” feels like it came out in 1972 and “Sweet Life” could easily mark Frank Ocean as the modern day Stevie Wonder. It’s his intimate lyrics and his fearlessness experimenting musically with different sounds that keeps every track fresh. Included is his preference for incorporating vocal clips and sound effects in between songs to connect them all together, also heard on Nostalgia. “Bad Religion” is easily one of the best tracks, a narrative of a one-sided conversation with a taxi driver featuring Ocean singing over somber organ chords and swelling strings. He shifts to a smooth falsetto for the first chorus, singing “I could never make him love me” a reference to the letter Ocean released on his website proclaiming his bisexuality, another trait that sets him apart from other R&B artists. This dramatic shift in vocal style shows his versatility as a singer, with the ability to produce every nuance in his lyrics with sheer accuracy.
“Pink Matter”, featuring Andre 3000’s uncanny ability to offer an always stellar cameo while also showing off his guitar skills (and not in the way Lil’ Wayne does), examines our minds, space and Dragon Ball Z, “Cotton candy Majin Buu/Close my eyes and fall into you”. “Lost” has an excellent guitar-driven beat and the displays the struggle of love versus substance, “Lost in the heat of it all”. Even the John Mayer featured interlude “White” fits as our preparation for the closing act of the album. “Monks” is some straight throw down funk that will no doubt be a showstopper live. In the end, after we’ve been though these tales of love, money, travel, and drugs we are left with “Forrest Gump”, Ocean’s tale about love running away from him, “I’m remembering you/This love I know is true/I won’t forget you/It’s for you Forrest Gump”. These words hit anybody who has ever know that feeling of giving all your love to someone and not receiving anything in return.
With Ocean set to embark on his first national tour, clearly there is a high demand for his presence. He has sold out Boston’s Paradise Rock Club, no small feat at a 900 person venue, as well as others I’m sure. When he was asked about his attitude performing and his selectivity in choosing dates and venues he simply said:
“Its not about lets do a million things right now, its about lets just do our best to do the best things right now.”
I think that’s a statement we can all take to heart.