Every holiday season a person ends up with a certain amount of gift cards. It is one of the few things you can consistently count on every season. It’s much easier to let someone else make the decision, you don’t have to admit to how little you actually know or care about your “friends”. We all do it. Being a known music freak, i usually end up with a couple Itunes cards. Now, for me, there is really only a couple approaches for purchase selection; something that i probably should have heard but haven’t or something that I would be too embarrassed to bring to the counter at a record store. Though, on occasion I do buy remix Eps on there too. I used to love the cd singles packed with different stylistic approaches, versions and visions. In the department of records I should have but didn’t there was one obvious choice for me, one of the most talked about artists/records of the last year, Frank Ocean and his album “Channel Orange”.
I initially dismissed Frank Ocean entirely based on his association with the Odd Future collective. I sampled several mixtapes and albums from their output and frankly didn’t see what the fuss is about. Their energy and approach is to be commended but the content and product itself didn’t really spark for me. Then again, I am not their target audience. Comparisons to Prince are sure to get my attention but wasn’t enough to get me to jump in. Nor did the recommendations of friends that I generally trust the musical tastes of, nor all the magazine/ website reviews.
These days, I mostly listen to music in the car while sitting in traffic on the way to and from work. So i burned a copy of the “Channel Orange” album for my purposes. Frank shows off his age by peppering the record with interludes, skits and various other ‘90s hip hop influenced “bullshit” filler tracks. I don’t need these weird little bits, i’m thinking the record would be stronger without them, every other track is a snippet or half version. Frank Ocean is to be admired for his dedication to sticking to his guns, he follows through even on the slight promise of an unfinished track. Perhaps this doubles back to some of the “bullshit” interludes and non-song bits wedged in-between tracks. On subsequent listenings they do seem to help set the mood or atmosphere. The comparisons to Prince are off the mark. This record is “Innervisions” era Stevie Wonder and “I Want You” era coked out Marvin Gaye riding in a mid ‘80s Lincoln Continental with R.Kelly smeared all over the windshield. The record is true to the form for folks used to the album format now finding themselves in a singles world. Flow and arc are lost most of the time, but not here. Deeply personal songs of heartache and misplaced affection, lost spoiled children and what they do to fill their time. On the songs the guy delivers.
“Sweet Life”, one of the tracks worked up with Pharrell, sounds like the best of his Neptunes/ N.E.R.D. productions and deeply channels the feel good sounds of ‘70s Soul/ R&B. All bass, snappy drum rhythms and electric piano. The majority of the songs are pretty mid tempo, the record doesn’t attempt to pull you in right off the bat. It’s the progression of unusual arrangements, counter melodies and topical building that demand your attention.
“Super Rich Kids” brings in some classic Motown sounds. Marvin Gaye reminiscent horns mixed low (and probably synth) , party atmosphere dialogue. Lyrically, a track about spoiled kids and their shallow, wasted days. This kicks off a trio of drug use tracks. Album single “Pyramids” is next.
Meandering at 9+ minutes, a song about Cleopatra and then her being reincarnated a stripper/prostitute. To me, it seems to be a couple track ideas mixed together. As I was writing this, a remix of album track, “Pink Matter’ (which features Andre 3000 in it’s original incarnation) was released that features Big Boi, making it the first Outkast feature since 2007. This should be a clear picture of the importance of this album. As should the six grammy nominations.
Much has been made of a post he made to his Tumblr page ( that appears to have been meant as a liner note addition. The inference that the label forced its removal. In the note is a story reminiscing about his first love, a secret love affair with another man. In the hip hop world, where “faggot” is a embraced term, it’s a rare case where someone is public about this sort of love. He has called this a liberating move. In 2012 when this was posted, you would think it wouldn’t matter anymore, but the world is far more conservative than it purports to be.
It’s rare at this point for me to find a record that captures my attention on it’s first play. The days of a record getting a dozen plays before it’s discarded are long past in this ever diminishing attention span world. This one did. When it ended, I just wanted to start over again.