Frank Ocean’s Tsunami “Channel”
Cynics. They’re running over everything. It’s tough not to get caught up in it yourself when much the volume comes from such an intensely negative base. I bring this up because only days before Frank Ocean dropped his major label debut, he released a letter to the public that clarified elements of his sexuality that he’d kept to himself. The letter, though beautifully written and ambiguous at times, basically stated that Ocean’s first love was a man and left open the possibility of Ocean’s bisexuality if not outright homosexuality. It was a brave move, but the web lit up with some who thought it was a ploy to help promote his impending record release. Sad times when we persecute honesty and openness. Re-reading the letter multiple times, Ocean is so thoughtful but raw in the letter that it’s nearly impossible to fathom him exploiting it for a few more album sales.
A few days later the album dropped, and here we are to sort through Ocean’s immaculately sequenced Channel Orange. I feel the need to preface the remainder of this review by clarifying that I think Odd Future is talented but have a possible shelf-life if they don’t branch out. That said, it’s clear to me now that Earl Sweatshirt is the collective’s best emcee, and Ocean is the most classically gifted artist. If you don’t believe me, then check out Channel Orange. I was skeptical of its power before I actually heard it, but it hits all the right notes.
Ocean’s major label LP warrants comparisons to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in its disjointed jumps from melancholy to anger to longing to breezy fun. West’s magnum opus (to this point anyway) was an exhausting affair with some truly uncomfortable moments, but Ocean carries the same weight without ever bogging you down in suffocating production (which actually made sense with the Kanye LP). “Thinkin’ Bout You” rides a light, glitch-y beat, while Ocean’s voice brings the emotion. It’s testament to Ocean’s range that he can go from the conversational tone of the verses that borders on rap before effortlessly shifting to the R&B croons he’s been lauded for.
Production-wise, the album is all over the place (70s soul, retro R&B, lounge rap, etc), but Ocean’s voice is able to anchor the record without a stutter in judgment. One of the greatest moments of the record comes in “Super Rich Kids.” “I’m seachin’ for real love,” Ocean croons in vocal layers before Earl Sweatshirts takes aim at “Super rich kids with nothin’ but loose ends/Super rich kids with nothin’ but fake friends.” The song’s production, complete with relaxed horns, pushes a breezy vibe, but there’s sincerity thats unmistakable. You have to remember that these kids have been exposed to LA’s high-class life virtually overnight, and it’s easy to get jaded.
I could sit and discuss every highlight the album has (it’s incredible that in over 17 tracks Ocean doesn’t misstep), but that would be pointless. I’ll make the bold and truthful statement that Ocean has created one of the best albums of the year, and it’s in a class of its own in 2012 when it comes to combining hook-laden fun and emotional depth. Oh, and “Forest Gump” is worth the asking price alone.