Amid internet murmurings and speculation about his sexuality, Frank Ocean, the crooner of the Odd Future crew published a poetic letter professing that his first love was a friend who also happened to be a man.
In the perfectly choreographed sequence of events that followed, Ocean released his first album Channel Orange on itunes, made his live, televised performance debut, and became the topic of conversation for everyone who knows anything about current music. Whether serendipitous or the work of a talented branding machine, Ocean was the man of the hour, or at least of the moment.
Because of the circus surrounding Frank, from the homophobes to the opportunistic allies, I admittedly avoided writing about Channel Orange. I found myself unable to separate story from an honest critique of art. The buzz around the album has subsided and I was finally able to take a thorough listen.
If you weren’t convinced by Nostalgia/Ultra, Frank Ocean’s mixtape, then "Pyramid", the first release from his studio debut confirms that Ocean is a vivid storyteller. The almost ten-minute, two movement opus is historical metaphor meets social commentary. Channel Orange is similarly peppered with the same tones of love and consciousness set to production that takes an appropriately secondary position to the subtleties of Ocean’s voice. And while his voice isn’t perfect, what Ocean lacks in power he makes up for in earnestness, superior writing, and a willingness to be vulnerable that is often absent in current R&B.
Ocean shines on Thinkin Bout You, balancing a nuanced tenor with a reaching falsetto and moody production. Other standouts include “Sweet Life”, “Super Rich Kids”, “Pilot Jones”, and last but not least “Pink Matter” which is significant if for no other reason than Ocean unearthing the elusive Andre Benjamin for a feature spot.
Channel Orange is a solid album that transcends the chaos that surrounded its release. Ocean shows true progression from his earlier work and is definitely an artist to watch.
Channel Orange is available in stores and itunes.