Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Channel Orange" Album Review

Frank Ocean's Debut Hits the Right Channel

By Rampage

While the main focus in the news remains Frank Ocean sexuality and artists' opinions on the matter, frankly I don't give a shit. I've been a fan of his since Nostalgia, Ultra, his work with Odd Future and even on Kanye and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne. While so many artists struggle to find their demographic and uphold their image, Frank Ocean comes along with this unique style that blends romanticism, spirituality and pop culture to create Channel Orange. It is difficult to describe the tone of Channel Orange but easy to become drawn into Ocean's many detailed stories tracing his emotional struggles.

The album opens with the Playstation start-up sounds and Street Fighter II theme taking me back to the my childhood and drawing me into Ocean's past. Just as the the nostalgia came to me his breakthrough single "Thinkin About You" is introduced with new orchestra strings and is clearly one of the standout moments on the album. A somber Ocean thinks of the future of his relationship as he asks, 

"Do you not think so far ahead?/Cuz I been thinkin bout forever, ooh". 

Aside from his (epic) second single, "Pyramids", another standout track is "Bad Religion" which he recently performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to universal acclaim. On the track he tries to "outrun his demons" in the back seat of a taxi cab where he pours out his woes about an unbalanced relationship. This was one of the songs where people thought Ocean was coming out because he says "him" instead of "her" in the chorus. His worship for someone he loved is "unrequited". 

The few features on this album are effective which is not always the case for a debut album. Earl Sweatshirt jumps on "Super Rich Kids" an ode to the rebellious and high life of wealthy teenagers who are secluded in their rich lifestyle. Earl Sweatshirt uses his signature stacked rhyme flow ("we be the xany-gnashin, caddy-smashin, bratty-ass...") and Frank even slowly raps the opening lines.

Andre 3000 also gives one of his rare guest appearances on "Pink Matter" which is about a woman's..."Majin Boo". This track displays some of Ocean's colorful imagery and 3000's remarkable flow with a verse about his incompatibility with a woman because of his lifestyle.

"Sweet Life" is a Pharell produced track about a good day for Frank Ocean laying back and sipping wine looking at the beach ("why see the world if you got the beach?") and "Forest Gump" is an interesting track written from the perspective of Jenny from the Oscar-winning film Forest Gump where he references details from the movie. 

Overall, Channel Orange is a rare achievement for the R&B genre. This is an artist expressing his insecurities to the world through beautiful production and lyricism. Each song reminded me of Ocean's undeniable writing ability and vocal range. My only complaint is the skits that don't always serve the purpose he tries to project, as breaks between different themes. Also his beat selection is sometimes overly mixed with synth jazz samples that don't always connect ("Crack Rock", "Monks"). 

Still, from a songwriting standpoint Channel Orange garners some of the most insightful narratives I've heard in years and Frank Ocean's artistry and brilliance is the reason.

My Rating: 

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