The buzz around Frank Ocean before Channel Orange was unhurried and casual, with a sense of expectancy in the wake of his debut LP “Nostalgia Ultra”, though he was essentially still only known as the emotional grounding in the “Odd Future” Collective. It was “that” Tumblr post that changed everything, as Ocean’s divulgence of sexuality two weeks before release automatically placed the record under the spotlight; it’s interpretable lyrics becoming one of the many aspects that make this record unmatched by it’s peers, innovative in a previously lyrically restrictive genre.
Channel Orange is a much more grown up affair than Nostalgia Orange (not a Hotel California instrumental in sight) yet Ocean still incorporates an exuberant ethos, “trolling the music industry” (his words) with nine minute single “Pyramids”. Much like other tracks on the record it is a mini opera in itself, dealing with a multitude of styles with the menacing synths and cavernous beats that become typical of the album, with the glossy vocals acting as a seamless segue between territories.
Ocean effectively lets imperious emotion take over in tracks like “Bad Religion” and “Thinkin’ About You” whilst offering seemingly playful intermezzos on the likes of “Super Rich Kids”. However on future listen one finds that every track has a profound undercurrent, and whether it’s about unrequited love or drug addiction each track acts as a puzzle piece, which together forms a detailed depiction of Ocean’s tragic uncertainty and vulnerability.
This journey of personal discovery is perhaps also represented through his collaboration choices. Odd Future colleague Earl Sweatshirt’s verse on “Super Rich Kids” is restrained and calculated, allowing his mathematic flow to resonate without overpowering. However it is Andre 3000’s appearance on “Pink Matter” that bounces best off Ocean’s galvanized vocals. Arguably the guest verse of the year, his effortlessly smooth spoken word style counteracts Ocean’s most intense vocal performance of the record in a celebration of two acts that have changed the hip hop/r&b landscape.
Channel Orange is a perfectly formed, understated record that gives hope in a time where artists are constantly trying to outdo each other through their grandiosity. Ocean has taken it back to basics, yet his incorporation of styles and remarkably open subject matter is evidence of how a modern R&B record should be made. Artists, take note.