Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
- By Jack Preston -
- Jul 10, 2012
What has Frank Ocean gone and done? He’s catapulted himself to global superstardom in the space of a week, it seems.
At the start of July most people had some vague idea who Ocean was, after all his debut mixtape, the magnificent ‘Nostalgia, Ultra’, had gained widespread praise upon its free release last year – before heavily featuring in many ‘albums of 2011’ lists. Then of course there was his Odd Future connection, and everyone knows who Odd Future are – even Jeremy Paxman.
But it wasn’t until last week, when Ocean posted a refreshingly honest and touching blog post describing his first love, that the world sat up and listened. His revelation was greeted with widespread warmth and admiration, it was a brave move for a young man to take in such a sexually backwards section of the music industry. With his name now on everyone’s lips on the day of his album release, it was also a smart move, although there’s little room for cynicism once you’ve delved into 'Channel Orange'.
It’s hard to remember a more surprising or joyful beginning to an album. Like many of his generation, Ocean clearly lost many an hour to his Playstation, with the unmistakable crystal chime of the console starting the album before linking in to the tender ‘Thinking Of You’, with Ocean’s voice reaching unfathomable highs.
Despite a close connection with the much lauded Odd Future producer Clams Casino, Ocean has chosen to take on joint producer duties with collaborator Malay. While a string of recent hook-ups with Jay-Z, Kanye West, Kid Cudi and Nas could have presumably seen him call on an all-star Channel Orange cast. Instead the 24 year old has gone his own route, bringing in Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt for a few tight bars of ‘Super Rich Kids’ and Outkast’s Andre 300 for the winding ‘Pink Matter’.
The immense pleasure to be taken from Channel Orange lies in the progression Ocean’s sound has taken, even in the short space of time since Nostalgia, Ultra appeared online. Everything has been subtly ramped up, drum beats given an extra 808 kick, strings further dramatized, whirring guitars interspersed with fuzzy skits, tracks continuously layered with soft spoken word and hushed backing vocals that underplay the frankest of omissions from the narrator.
Individual highlights are tricky to pick out, with the consistency of material the album’s great triumph. However the downward R&B groove of ‘Crack Rock’, against which tales of addiction sit “smoking stones, in abandoned homes. You’ve hit the stones in your broken home”, proves impossible not to repeat.
Ten minute epic ‘Pyramids’, featuring John Mayer, takes on an almost Timbaland feel, with its wheezy electro beats seeing the album bend into almost slightly uncomfortably electro territory before recovering with a smooth finish. While funkier numbers, such as the infectious bounce of ‘Lost’, chug along at a relentlessly pleasant speed.
Had Ocean’s sexuality not already become the focus of public scrutiny, ‘Bad Religion’ would have been as every bit as revealing as his blog post on unrequited love. As it happens, the listener feels almost well versed in the singer’s heartaches.
Some albums lend themselves to singles, almost encouraging listeners to flit through their weaker moments. Whereas some albums demand prolonged engagement, presenting an array of subtleties and narrative to marvel at. There might be a few albums which fall into this category during 2012, although only one will be album of the year. It’s going to have to take something very special to top Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange.