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Channel Orange Review

July 15, 2012

I wasn’t a Frank Ocean fan.  Not enough to want him dead like one of my friends did, but I didn’t like him enough to go apeshit about his music.

On February 8, 2011, Frank Ocean released his mixtape nostalgia, Ultra.  On the day I downloaded the mixtape, (August 4th) I also purchased an album by Wayne Brady (A Long Time Coming).  nostalgia, Ultra turned out to not become my cup of tea, as a few of the cuts on A Long Time Coming got more spins than any cut on nostalgia, Ultra.  Hell, Cocaine 80s last two mixtapes got more burn than nostalgia, Ultra ever did.

Then Pyramids came out.  A few people on Twitter were talking about it, but I kinda shrugged my shoulders.  Usually when you hear people (especially stans) hyping up an album, you tend to think of the worst when you hear it.

I played “Pyramids”, and I kinda shrugged it off.  Then a few days later, I played it again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  Finally, I downloaded it and stored it into my phone, where I was free to play it whenever I felt like playing it.  Which was damn near every night.

Around that time, I got wind that Frank would be releasing Channel Orange on July 17, 2012.  At the time of this review, the album was made available through the iTunes Digital Store on July 10, 2012.  Being curious (and liking “Pyramids”), I decided to listen to the album once I had gotten off of work.

I stated out liking it after one song.  Then another.  Then another.  By the time I had finally listened to the entire album (front to back), the stream repeated itself.  I had an R&B album on repeat.  Not a cut, but an entire album was on repeat.

Yet, nothing else mattered.  I was even tempted to listen to The UN cuts on PeteStrumentals (“Nothin’ Lesser” & “Cake”), but I sat transfixed through this album.  It wasn’t until the second go around that I finally cut it off.  I still don’t know exactly how many times I would have listened to that album.

It starts with a Playstation (the PSOne) being turned off, before Frank starts selecting a character from Street Fighter 2.  Once the intro (known as “Start”) passes, strings drop to open up “Thinkin Bout You.”  The filtered synths and the low pass drums keep you hypnotized, as he croons about how he’s thinking about that certain someone (as well as forever).  He may not have the most amazing vocal range, but he makes his voice fit, especially on the song’s chorus.

“Fertilizer” is up next, a brief skit that goes through some audio collages before a collection of piano chords leads you to believe that Frank Ocean is taking you back to the doo-wop that dominated the 1950s.  Then the rinky-tink drum patterns that often come inside keyboards and keyboard horns start playing turning it into a lounge song as he talks about “taking bullshit.”  This all happens in less than the time it takes to finish this paragraph.

“Sierra Leone” is almost a reverse “Thinkin Bout You”, in which it opens with filtered synths and low pass drums before going into a symphony of strings, guitars and chimes.  Slide into “Sweet Life”, where the Rhodes take you onto an area of paradise, whether you’re sipping a strawberry banana smoothie (with the umbrella next to the straw, don’t judge me) or a lounge chair inside a restaurant.  A wave of piano chords and strings gently crash into the chorus, as Frank asks “Why see the world when we’ve got the beach.”  The last wave comes in as a guitar solo at the end as “Not Just Money” transitions in.  “Not Just Money” is another audio collage featuring a woman who “doesn’t have money,” but simply “bills to pay.”

Then it’s on to “Super Rich Kids” which talks about rich kids (obviously) over with simple piano chords.  The song features Earl Sweatshirt, one of my favorites out of the Odd Future camp, who provides a 16 as well as the chorus.  My only gripe is that he should’ve stuck to spitting the 16 and let Frank handle the chorus, but it’s only a minor gripe that is slowly subsiding.

“Pilot Jones” goes into filtered strings (the ones that give you the reverse feeling) which is open for translation, as it could describe the feeling of wanting a high or wanting a woman who wants to get high.  Whatever the case may be, the landing takes you into “Crack Rock” which reminds me of a lite-rock song.  It sounds eerily similar to something that would open up a romantic comedy, and I’ll admit that Frank singing the “Crack Rock” chorus makes me chuckle a little.  Don’t take that the wrong way; there’s nothing funny about the story itself which talks about someone addicted to crack and how it’s affecting the people around them.

Of course, it’s on to “Pyramids”, where the first half starts out with chords that may or may not come from a sample before clearer synths and the drums turn it into an all out grinding/dance fest.  Then the second half is slowed down, becoming a strip club/sex song.  It’s a club banger that doesn’t sound like any club banger that has been released for the past 2 years.  I will do a full on review of the song on another post, but I will end by saying the Frank shows his writing skills off, as the second half could’ve easily been found on a Rihanna album.  I may be the only one who feels that way, but there are so many traces of Rihanna (right down to the vocals) that I can’t help but imagine (and subsequently hear) her singing the second half.

Then it goes into “Lost,” which I don’t have too many words for.  It’s not filler, but it’s pretty good.  Reminds me of something I’ll hear on a random commercial for car insurance or something.  Then it’s onto “White”, featuring John Mayer on the guitar (something I didn’t realize until my third listen, as I thought he provided vocals).  It’s only an interlude, and not very long, but it’s very jazzy and I like it a lot.  I may or may not keep it on repeat once I have it ready to play.

Afterward is “Monks”, which gives off a hard rock feeling in a slow dance track, thanks to the drums.  The bridge in the middle gives an air of house, which is a good thing.  Probably one of my favorite songs off of the album.

“Bad Religion” follows up, and it’s one of the only ballads in the album.  The song, dressed with strings, a piano and an organ, where Frank has a talk with a taxi driver, as he is in disguise to visit a forbidden love.  The forbidden love?  If you’ve been paying attention to the Internet in any way, shape or form, you may know what forbidden love it is.  If not, the link’s in there, thank you very much.  Doesn’t take anything away from the song (nor the album, as if it should).

“Pink Matter” is after, which features Andre 3000 not only dropping a verse, but actually being involved in the song singing with Frank, before going back to his sabbatical.  A notable quotable 3 Stacks drops is “if models were made for modeling/thick girls were made for cuddling,” while I won’t dispute it, I won’t disagree neither, so…what’s the next song?

Ah, yes, “Forrest Gump”, named after the character from the eponymous movie.  What I like about the song is that it uses the drums from the same song that Marley Marl sampled for Kool G Rap to make “Truly Yours.”  The Gump in this song is much more bigger, although according to Frank, he wouldn’t hurt a fly.  He talks about how he runs on his mind, how he saw his game and “ran past the endzone” and out of his life.  At the end, he said he won’t forget him.  You can say that it all comes full circle as it could be going right back to “Thinkin Bout You.”  However you interpret it is left up to you, dear listener.

At the “End” is another interlude, where Frank goes into stream of consciousness singing over a guitar beat while random voices phase in and out.  The album closes out with the closing of a car, footsteps, jingling keys and the opening of a house door.  Perhaps it really does come full circle?

Overall, this is one of the better albums released (as far as the mainstream goes).  It’s a great R&B album, and it’s certainly a far cry from the  techno/Europop that has been dominating R&B for over the past two years.  It’s an album that has to be heard to be believed and it’s a lot better than the mixtape that preceded it.  This is an album that definitely needs the support, and it definitely shows the growth of where R&B could be heading, as well as the growth of Frank Ocean.  Here’s a toast to you, duke, you definitely deserve it.

One Comment
  1. I still haven’t given it a listen, but seeing as how you seem so amazed by it, I’ll certainly give it a shot.

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