Review: Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
I don’t think I was the only one floored by Frank Ocean’s debut performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
At 24, Ocean has garnered a huge amount of buzz this month. He posted a letter describing his first love to another man on July 4th. The following week he affected waves of viewers with his stellar and incredibly moving television premiere of Bad Religion on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. And the week after that, channel ORANGE hit the marketplace. Much like this chain of events, Ocean’s first studio album wows, compels, and astonishes in ways that few records seem to do these days.
Christopher Francis Ocean has a remarkable voice, and through the length of channel ORANGE, it’s the centerpiece of each song. In an era where recording artists have access to a plethora of instruments, sound libraries, and digital effects, channel ORANGE shows restraint and never detracts from the presence and timbre of Ocean’s vocal tracks. Songs like Pyramids and Monks have a bit more force, particularly in the drum tracks, but for the most part the accompanying sounds and instruments, while at times sparse and minimal (like on Pilot Jones), are warm and provide a solid platform for Ocean’s voice to shine through.
And it isn’t just the way Ocean sings; his lyrics are deep, intimate, and poetic, looking inward, dealing with sexuality, lust, pregnancy and the idea of creating a child, helplessness, addiction, over-privileged youths, and more, and the emotional content in his voice breathes life into every word. The topics themselves aren’t anything groundbreaking, but the way Ocean muses over them is genuinely interesting, raising questions that don’t always have specific answers. These words have evoked a variety of responses and interpretations, and for yours truly, gave pause and meditation on some not-so-great segments of my odd and somewhat disjointed life (I was also drinking a fairly large gin and tonic at the time). The way Ocean approaches these sometimes difficult, sometimes abstract, but often easily relatable issues is fascinating to say the least, and some of his metaphors, like ‘Majin Buu’ in Pink Matter, made me chuckle just a bit.
Speaking of Pink Matter, Andre 3000′s stream of consciousness guest verse is excellent. That’s all I need to say about that.
The flow of the album from start to finish feels just right, with a couple small interludes and segues dotting the way. These short embellishments, like Fertilizer and Not Just Money, establish a theme that the following songs build upon. The song length ranges from 2:29 (Sierra Leone) to 9:53 (Pyramids, which is basically two songs in one with a shoegaze-y outro), and none of the songs feel excessive. Each minute of this album feels significant, and it builds you up to what I feel are the two best and most personal songs on the album, Bad Religion and Pink Matter. Both songs somberly address Ocean’s sexuality, backed by smooth and sweeping orchestral arrangements.
It’s been many months since I’ve been this engrossed in an album. channel ORANGE is simply a solid work of musical and lyrical artistry, warm-sounding and emotionally involving, and should promptly become part of your music collection.
- Frank Ocean has a remarkable voice, rich with character
- Excellently produced and arranged
- Lyrics and themes are compelling and thought-provoking
- I didn’t pick up this album the day it released