As the unlikely member of controversial rap collective, Odd Future, Frank Ocean’s smooth yet progressive take on R&B is a welcomed refresher. He quickly established a cult following on his mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, and had fans impatiently waiting for more. On his official debut, Channel Orange, Ocean continues to push the boundaries of traditional R&B while singing with a seductive croon and a high level of lyrical honesty.
Similar to Nostalgia, Ultra, the record opens with sounds -like a engine starting. The track flows into, “Thinkin’ Bout You” -a seemingly, one-sided love affair that Ocean wants to continue. The beats are simple, letting Ocean’s vocals overwhelm instead of the instrumentation. Other mini-intermissions come in the form of tracks like “Fertilizer” “Not Just Money” and “White” which features John Mayer.
Following “Thinkin’ Bout You” is the tale of “Sierra Leone.” There’s a ’70s-esque groove that punctuates the lyrical mystery of the track. Ocean isn’t going out of his way to make his music radio-friendly or club-ready. ”Sweet Life” which boasts the line, “My TV ain’t HD, that’s too real” features a subdued brass section and a soft, piano accent. Ocean takes the biggest strides vocally on this song, featuring Al Green-inspired howls and a strong rasp. His creative take on an iconic sound propels the album foward, as the tracks are fluid in and out.
“Super Rich Kids” featuring fellow OFWGKTA member, the elusive Earl Sweatshirt, almost has a “Benny and the Jets” type feel as Ocean speaks about spoiled kids with “too many white lies and too many white lines.” And, where other R&B artists use irrelevant samples to add an illusion of depth to their tracks, Ocean’s sing-along of “I’m looking for a real love” actually fits into the narrative he’s created.
Ocean’s effortless suave swagger trickles throughout the rest of the album on the finger-snap driver, “Pilot Jones” and “Crack Rock” -where even Ocean’s unabashed vulgarity is pleasing to the ear. The closest Ocean gets to a club-banger (and I use that term loosely) is the undeniable groove of the 10-minute epic, “Pyramids” where he compares his runaway lady-love interest to Cleopatra, and “Lost.” The electronic scale in the background is repetitious and synths addictive as Ocean fills the track with falsetto and sweet, vocal runs. While “Lost” unfolds, I don’t think anyone would mind being lost in the “heat” or “thrill of it all” with Mr. Ocean by their side.
“Monks” tells of the ones who “mosh for enlightenment” -yet another soulful, social commentary. Where popular observations about love and real relationships, or lack thereof, are often presented on a surface level, Ocean weaves complexities with more relatable phrasing. Fading into the confessional track, “Bad Religion” -Channel Orange finds its climax as well as its slow burn of an ending. Vocally, Ocean’s strength is in his desperation -telling the all-too-familiar woes of loving someone who doesn’t love you.
“Pink Matter” featuring Outkast’s Andre 3000, is like embers glowing. 3000′s verse breathe life into a track that almost fades into the background. Obviously unafraid to mix genres, a heavy yet mellowed blues guitar rocks the track to sleep as Ocean and 3000 blend their vocals, almost like a lullaby. “Forrest Gump” (the album’s end, as the track “End” is just sounds, in true Frank Ocean fashion) is a solid closer. Depending on how you receive it, the track can be an ode to the character Forrest Gump himself, or a metaphor for Ocean’s own life and past relationships that have recently come to light in the media. Whether it’s a love-letter to Ocean’s past, male love or not, it works. Wrapping up the themes of love, loss, growth, and heartbreak, Ocean promises, “I’ll never forget you” and he’s now made it so we won’t be able to forget him either.
*Find Jessi Roti directly on Twitter @jessitaylorRO and be sure to follow @ScreenInvasion!