Frank Ocean // Channel Orange // July 10 // Odd Future
As far as musical trends go, Odd Future have been one of the most notorious and also most annoying one from the last couple of years. It might be that the majority of it has been focused on Tyler, The Creator who delivered two strong and personality driven LPs and then decided to focus on the rest of his crew who are below mediocre. Frank Ocean shouldn’t even be part of OF in the first place. It was easy to see him as the most mainstream friendly artist from the bunch but following last week’s coming out ceremony all of that is thrown into a sea of uncertainty. Now we have the album and it seems that what was once a taboo is about to become one of the great underdog stories of the present day.
Channel Orange follows Nostalgia, Ultra, a mixtape of sorts that had few good songs but was ultimately marred by songwriting that focused too much on the production and not actual hooks or anything that would hit hard. Channel Orange isn’t hook heavy either but it’s not because Ocean doesn’t know how to write a pop song. Channel Orange is more complex than that, it feels confessional front to back with music acting as a richly textured background rather than something that will be fighting for your attention. Ocean has stuff to say and he wants to be heard. It’s hard to say what the music on here qualifies as. Just like Ocean’s statement earlier this month, Channel Orange breaks boundaries with subtlety and sincerity, merely touching upon them. A good part of Channel Orange is danceable, very little of it is r&b as you know it in the 21st century. There’s some smooth soul and mild funk and it’s all drowned in psychedelic atmosphere. The sunny centrepiece Sweet Life feels warmer than your typical song about beach and good time while the album and year-so-far highlight Pyramids is basically two songs shifting between eachother effortlessly. The music on Channel Orange is a smoke ring rich with little details and ornaments.
Lyrically the album doesn’t give any place for disappointment. You could go ahead and expect that Ocean announced his coming out because he thought that the lyrics on here could shock some people but that’s not true either. In his letter he declared his love for another man without using the imagery of sexuality, instead painting pure emotion. That’s very much the case with Channel Orange, only few songs on here really deal with the subject of homosexuality while the rest of the storytelling is much more open-ended. It’s not necessarily a huge statement that everyone makes it out to be. It’s easy to pick up the record and listen to it without thinking about the person who wrote it. It’s a lucky coincidence then that the record is written by the sort of person who is not only boundary breaking but also a brilliant songwriter than manages to make alien things like that sound so very familiar. Channel Orange is his gig even if he gets some help from OF cohort Earl Sweatshirt and other psychedelic soul Andre 3000. In the world of hard hitting, instant hits, stuff that Ocean writes for himself and people like Beyonce, Jay-Z and Kanye is silky smooth, neo-soul and quiet storm influenced r&b and it stands removed from the rest of the urban music. Whether people will warm up to Ocean and his ideas and his personality is anyone’s guess but on Channel Orange the only sound he’s following is his conscience.
Few things for amateurs to the publicity: On Channel Orange Frank Ocean is bisexual, not gay. There are enough lyrics on here about sex with women to please any narrow-minded hood rat. The coming out letter came out not because Ocean wanted to get clear on anything, it’s just a clever way to get everyone’s attention, clever but cheap. It’s good then that his album is rich in experimentation, emotion and pop appeal. Channel Orange is not an instant album of the year as some people make it out to be, some of the instrumentals here lack anything that would hold them together and make them memorable and other than Thinkin Bout You, which aims straight for your heart and Lost, which is the only true pop hit on here, there isn’t much crossover appeal. But even then, just like Ocean’s letter, Channel Orange deals with sex as an emotional escape rather than physical act and whether these songs are about men or women becomes of secondary importance. Such topics and delivery of them is rare. He finished his letter by saying that he is now a man with no secrets who can hear the sky falling. Even if it does come down on him, he’ll hold the weight of it on his shoulders as long as his soul is free.