Sunday, July 15, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW - Frank Ocean's "Channel ORANGE"

This is a dangerous piece.

Frank Ocean has a buzz surrounding him; heck, even his buzz has a buzz. He, like a previously-reviewed female songstress (initials: LDR) has something special about him, almost like saying "there's a catch." LDR's "catch" was not really her fault, but in a sense it was: her fault was the amount of processed imagery that was surrounding her and her music. It convoluted the music, distracting a prospective listener to the point that they had to make a decision about the music before they even heard it.

Within the past few weeks, Frank Ocean went from being the little-known, soulful member of the Odd Future crew, to being a household name. If you don't already know, Ocean came out as being a homosexual via an eloquently written Text Edit/Tumblr post - seen to the left (or go here) - he put up on his own Tumblr page. The fact that this is generating buzz makes me somewhat disgusted with our nation's music listeners, but in the same sense it makes me incredibly proud. As a white, straight, mid-20s male, I don't have a lot in common with Ocean, but the fact that this is gaining attention is humbling. For too long, hip-hop and R&B music has been riddled with hetero-centric male ideals and lyrics, strung out over hip-hop beats that can all be too contrived at times. Again, I realize that some may think that I have no place criticizing hip-hop music, but this subject matter speaks to me; the times are changing in the music industry, and if you can't be tolerant of another's life style, then you're going be left in the dust.

Because Frank Ocean's music is incredible; it reaches past the "hype" and the labels that Ocean's name might generate. Modern R&B music has never been without kitsch, and channel ORANGE is no different. But the music speaks for itself.

Beginning with "Start," a mix of random "start-up" noises (I believe I catch an iPhone and PS3 starting up, and possibly a Nintendo system?), channel ORANGE features a brilliant mix of beats, electro-funk and rhythmically beautiful backing tracks. Ocean's voice glides gracefully, one verse can feature his slow drawl/canter, almost as if he's talking to you. Tracks like "Pink Matter" (with a guest spot from the always perfect Andre 3000) feature the duality of Frank Ocean's strengths: lyrical ability and vocal range. His falsetto is chill-inducing and his lyrics could make Goliath tear up. "Bad Religion" stands out as a near-perfect track, which finds Ocean telling a story of torturous love, spoken to a Taxi Driver: "This unrequited love/to me it's nothing but a one-man cult/and cyanide in my styrofoam cup/I could never make him love me".

Along with tracks like "Bad Religion", channel ORANGE features many typical R&B hits ("Thinkin' Bout You" "White" "Pilot Jones" "Sierra Leone" for instance), but Ocean's wholesomely visceral lyrics and amazing voice paired with the great use of electro-funk/pop music make songs that stick to you like poison-arrow darts. The use of dual-layering his own voice in many tracks, one part rap, the other crooning you in the background, keeps the songs interesting, and only showcase Ocean as a top-of-the-line entertainer.

Frank Ocean comes with guests, too. "Super Rich Kids" features OFWGKTA stand-out Earl Sweatshirt and is the best track that doubles as a hip-hop gem. Whether the song is written auto-biographically or not (at this point, there's no reason to believe that it wasn't), the song is filled with tongue-in-cheek humor: "Too many bottles of this wine we can't pronounce/too many bowls of that green - no Lucky Charms/the maids come around too much/parents ain't around enough" are only the beginning. Then Earl Sweatshirt comes and steals the track, as he so often does, with a voice that sounds a little deeper than we're used to (for obvious reasons not needing to be discussed here). Other guests on the album are the aforementioned Andre 3000 and John Mayer, who manages to not distract you completely from the actual song ("White") with any sort of presence.

Every track on this album is worth listening to, and obviously channel ORANGE features songs that stand-out and will keep me going back to them. But as a whole, the album shimmers like gold.

There was an old Chris Rock joke that went something along the lines of "Trying to make an R&B song? Get a rap beat and sing over it". This stayed with me as a criticism of the genre through the late '90s-early '00s, and even remains true today (Usher still can't ditch the format). Ocean seems to be intent on using amazingly deep electronic pop music to sing over, and though he's definitely not the first to do it, I sure hope he's not the last.

The game is changing. And I'm absolutely proud to be a part of it, watching the hip-hop and R&B culture change will be an utter delight; we now have a bench-mark to look back on-- an instant classic that will be remembered for a long time to come.

My Rating: 4.6/5

Stream the album here, via Frank Ocean's Tumblr Page

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