Frank Ocean’s Pitch-Perfect Debut Album “Channel Orange” Soars.


Ever since they arrived so very loud­ly in the hood a cou­ple of years ago, every­one has been won­der­ing who it was that would emerge from the Odd Future collective.

Not with­stand­ing all the bom­bast and sheer noise, it was obvi­ous that some­one would raise their head above the para­pet, and it was sort of assumed that that per­son would be their unof­fi­cial lead singer, Tyler, The Creator. 

But his offi­cial debut solo album Gob­lin (actu­al­ly his sec­ond, and they all of them release a steady stream of mix-tapes) was sur­pris­ing­ly unim­pres­sive, and was reviewed ear­li­er here.

But with the arrival of Chan­nel Orange, the offi­cial debut from Frank Ocean, we have our answer. This is the real deal, and so, clear­ly is he.

Truth be told, he’s not real­ly part of the Odd Future gang, but hooked up with them after they’d already come into being to act as their sort of unof­fi­cial men­tor. He’d moved to LA five years before­hand after Kat­ri­na had dev­as­tat­ed his home town of New Orleans.

By the time Odd Future formed he’d already estab­lished him­self as a suc­cess­ful job­bing song writer, pro­duc­ing work for, amongst oth­ers, John Leg­end and Justin Bieber. You can read more in Jon Cara­man­i­ca’s excel­lent New York Times pro­file here.

Chan­nel Orange charts the same kind of con­fes­sion­al RnB ter­ri­to­ry that Drake mined in last year’s, whis­per it, some­what over-praised Take Care. But whilst the bar­ing of his soul is once again the impe­tus for the album, there is a lot more going on here than that. Ocean is clear­ly a far rich­er writer than Drake, and the panoram­ic vis­tas he evokes are sig­nif­i­cant­ly broader. 

The char­ac­ters that peo­ple “Sweet Life” and “Super Rich Kids” for instance, are clear­ly relat­ed to those that drift through Bret Eas­t­on Ellis’ sem­i­nal Less Than Zero, and to some of those you find more recent­ly in the colour­ful short sto­ries of Junot Diaz. This is a world where exis­ten­tial angst is played out against a back­drop of urban ennui. 

The lat­ter by the way fea­tures Earl Sweat­shirt, the oth­er indi­vid­ual of sub­stance to emerge from Odd Future.

But as Sacha Frere-Jones notes in his New York­er review here, the emo­tion­al heart of the album is “Bad Reli­gion”, per­formed here on the Jim­my Fal­lon Show. It’s also one of the few tracks that alludes to his much dis­cussed sexuality. 

Demon­stra­bly, he’s as impres­sive vocal­ly as he is com­po­si­tion­al­ly. And his abil­i­ty to cooly move in and out and mas­ter any num­ber of gen­res, and to mar­ry them effort­less­ly with pitch-per­fect pro­duc­tion all add up to spell just one thing; Prince.

Ocean is a major find, and this is com­fort­ably one of the albums of the year. 

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Alabama Shakes, the Sound of Summer, But Don’t Hold That Against Them.

In 2010 it was Sleigh Bells, last year it was Odd yawn Future (reviewed ear­li­er here). And this year, the break­through act to emerge from SXSW was, by all accounts, Alaba­ma Shakes. And already you can hear the back­lash to the release of their debut album Boys & Girls begin­ning to build.

Much the same thing hap­pened after Amy Wine­house released what was her sec­ond and, as it turned out, her final album, Back to Black. One minute, all the right peo­ple were smil­ing approv­ing­ly stroking their beards and nod­ding their heads to the silky new sound. The fol­low­ing morn­ing, it was every­where.

They nev­er real­ly for­gave her. Which is most unfair. It’s hard­ly her fault if every­one else is des­per­ate­ly try­ing to latch on to the next big thing. And you can detect that same sense of faint resent­ment seep­ing out between the lines in the admir­ing reviews that Boys & Girls has been provoking.

Yes they’ve paid their dues, and Brit­tany Howard plain­ly means every­thing she sings. And the ener­gy and pas­sion of their live shows has most­ly been faith­ful­ly repro­duced here in the record­ing stu­dio. And there’s no mis­tak­ing that aura of authen­tic­i­ty, and the sense that here’s a band who go to bed with the Phil Spec­tor box set Back to Mono by their bedside. 

And yes, after they’ve fin­ished tour­ing with him this year, their next album is cer­tain to be pro­duced by Jack White, who’s sure to even fur­ther fine-tune their impec­ca­ble musi­cal instincts. But you just know that come the sum­mer, this album’s going to be all over the place.

On ads, movie sound­tracks, jet-set cat­walks, and, final­ly, as back­ground muzak in all the lazy retro wom­en’s retail dis­count cloth­ing bou­tique stores in every shop­ping mall in the west­ern world, and even­tu­al­ly beyond.

But you can only real­ly hold that against them if they’re the kind of band who are active­ly court­ing that sort of atten­tion. And good­ness knows, there are enough bands out there that are. But this plain­ly isn’t one of them.

But what are you going to do? The fact of the mat­ter is, Alaba­ma Shakes sounds like a lat­ter-day Janis Joplin has joined the stage at a pri­vate par­ty host­ed by Prince to briefly take the mike and lead his band. And nobody can believe what they’re hear­ing, least of all the host. You’ve been warned.

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