Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE [Review]

When nostalgia.ULTRA dropped, he took most of the world by storm. The vintage feel and overall cohesive project had folks pirating anything with the Frank Ocean or Lonny Breaux name. Once the initial hype died down, we sat and waited. Then the letter surfaced and an entirely new legion of fans were introduced to someone that some of us already knew about…the hype machine was in overdrive. Black Twitter, the blogs, and even other well known publications chimed in on the part sexuality plays in music and what this may or may not mean for Frank Ocean. At some point, we gotta stop giving a damn about the hype and focus back on the music. So let’s get to that. Is this album as good, better, or worse than what we’ve heard before? Has the machine corrupted the product? Let’s find out.

Sidenote: Missing numbers are interludes that definitely add to the experience, but aren’t really worth reviewing in a track by track format

2. Thinkin’ Bout You
Produced by Frank Ocean & Shea Taylor
This is a great song for anyone who’s ever been in love. There is an escape in the newness that Frank perfectly captures. The title says most of it, but the arrangement and lyrics say the rest. Frank uses his falsetto to grab that extra tinge of emotion that pushes this painfully tangible song into your memories and ignores your attempts to act ambivalent. Intro aside, this is a awesome opening to the album.

4. Sierra Leone
Produced by Frank Ocean & James Ho
I’ll charge my dislike of this song to me not being intelligent enough to grasp it’s entirety and my own personal disdain (generally speaking) for off-key treatments. It’s an exploration of a sweeping lullaby wrapped in moodiness and storytelling. However, I just don’t like how it sounds, especially in relation to the other songs on the album. Lyrically, it’s an easily relatable story of how most of us first found young love and explored it…sometimes without protection. For some folks, that moment will never be forgotten…and will also require food and money. It’s an innocent song built on emotions, nothing wrong with that, but I’ll pass on the arrangement this time around.

5. Sweet Life
Produced by Frank Ocean & Pharrell
This was the first track, okay second because I was trying to digest the previous song, that I had on repeat. The depth of the song is in it’s arrogant ignorance. The line “Why see the world, when you got the beach” speaks to laziness and privilege while at the same time speaking about his own transition from unknown to this stardom.  When he says

the water
is exactly what I wanted
it’s everything I thought it’d be
but this neighborhood
is getting trippier everyday
neighborhood is going ape shit crazy

I take him to mean that as he sees his dreams realized, he’s starting to realize that the “sweet life” that comes with them is not as dreamy as it seems. What’s great about this song though is that even if you don’t take it that literal and just embrace the chilltastic anthem that it is, you miss nothing because it’s still dope.

7. Super Rich Kids
Featuring Earl Sweatshirt; Produced by Frank Ocean, R. Hammond, James Ho, T. Kgosistile, M. Morales, K. Robinson, N. Robinson Jr., & M.Rooney
Ocean goes from talking about the sweet life to giving a sharp commentary on the same lifestyle he previously made sound so great. This song plays like a lyrical video treatment for some white teen movie we’ve all seen. The main difference between “Sweet Life” and “Super Rich Kids” seems to be the vantage point. The previous song is from the vision of someone who has worked to get where they are where as this song is the child of that existence. It’s a pretty dope juxtaposition when you listen to them straight through with the interlude. In both songs there is still a missing element that makes even the lush life seem incomplete. Using the marching piano chords from “Benny and The Jets” really helps push this song along. Earl’s verse is dope as hell and I think he even out-featured Stacks on this one.

close your eyes for what you can’t imagine
we are the xany gnashing, caddy smashing
bratty ass he mad he snatched his daddy’s jag
he used the shit for batting practice
adamant & he thrashing
purchasing crappy grams
with half the hand of cash you handed
panic & patch me up
pappy done latch keyed us
toying with raggy annes & mammy done had enough
brash as fuck breaching all these aqueducts
don’t believe us treat us like we can’t erupt yup

8. Pilot Jones
Produced by Frank Ocean and Shea Taylor
I’ve never been in a relationship with druggie of any sort…but this song makes me feel like I have. “Pilot Jones” is about the attraction and flat out dedication to someone that isn’t good for any of the parties involved. Ocean explains she’s the dealer AND the stoner being that she’s addicted to drugs and he’s addicted to her. This kind of lyricism and story-telling is what really has folks so excited about Frank’s career. It’s pure, simple but enthralling music that everyone can feel.

9. Crack Rock
Produced by Frank Ocean and James Ho
“Crack Rock” is a tale about just like it says, the life of a crack head. The thing about it is that it’s more a commentary about the life one leads and how those outside tend to look down on, judge and ignore him.

hittin stones in glass homes
you’re smokin’ stones in abandoned homes
you hit them stones & broke your home
crack rock crack rock
crack rock crack rock

those lines illustrate how such simple words can carry different meanings and his attention to carefully putting words together like that. Everyone knows you smoke, you actually smoke in crack houses, and because you smoke your house is in shambles. So simple, so effective. His commentary on the way people kick dirt on this story but make heroes out of those that seem to live a more honorable life is great.

10. Pyramids
Produced by Frank Ocean & James Ho
This is tied for favorite song on the album. It’s a 10 minute genre and subject-jumping song that has one thread that keeps it all together and makes it all make sense…Black women are undervalued. The first half of the song speaks directly to Us and how the once glorious and revered Black woman is missing in action. He then explains on the back half how she’s gone missing because of how we treat her. From hunting for our lost queens to exploiting them and treating them like entertainment and property, Frank weaves these subjects together seamlessly. I can only hope this is released as a single and Ye gets involved on the video, that shit would be epic. As far as track itself goes, we get a warped bassline (think Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere”) and some synth engineering similar to maybe a Daft Punk or similar 80’s sound. That transitions to a slower sonic ballad with warbling chords and trumpets, a completely different tempo and sound that perfectly paints the picture that he describes lyrically. I expect to see this song somewhere else before the year is out.

11. Lost
Produced by Frank Ocean, James Ho, & Micah Otano
The arrangement on “Lost” feels a lot like Prince’s “Take Me With You” while the lyrics paint a picture from any drug movie you’ve ever seen…well, at least the ones where the “bottom bitch” carries weight. There is an extravagant lifestyle of fake breasts, expensive clothes, and fabulous trips. However, beneath that is the manipulative workings of a someone who is acting like the puppet master, maybe even to his own eventual demise. Like most of the songs, the visuals are direct and clear, ready for the screen.

12. White
Featuring John Mayer; Produced by Frank Ocean & T. Okama
I know I said I’d be skipping the interludes, but I  had to point out how the bass beats on this song in the ride. I damn near destroyed my factory system on this song alone.

13. Monks
Produced by Frank Ocean & James Ho
Sometimes, you just have to enjoy the song as presented even if you don’t get it. Taken at face value this song is about young love and running away from…well, everything else that doesn’t pertain to that love. By this point in the album, I refuse to believe it’s that simple but I’m fine with not fully grasping it because the funky track allows me to still enjoy it. There is no lack of creativity and enjoyment in this sonically vintage production, so don’t miss the forest for the trees.

14. Bad Religion
Produced by Frank Ocean and Monte Neuble
Classic. Everything on this song from lyrics to production is flawless. We talk about this briefly on the frocast for the week, but this may be one of the songs that prompted his coming out. Frank uses the minimalist track, lush with church organs and angelic musical harmonies, to tell the tale of unrequited love. He interweaves that with religious undertones to create my favorite song this year. Doesn’t matter your “preference” this song is musical church.

this unrequited love
to me its nothing but a one man cult
& cyanide in my styrofoam cup
I could never make him love me
never make him love me
love me love me love me love me
love me love me
love me love me love me love
taxi driver i swear i’ve got three lives
balanced on my head like steak knives
I can’t tell you the truth about my disguise
I can’t trust no one
& you say allah hu akbar
i told him don’t curse me
bo bo you need prayer
I guessed it couldn’t hurt me
if it brings me to my knees
it’s a bad religion

15. Pink Matter
Featuring Andre 3000; Produced by Frank Ocean, James Ho, and Andre Benjamin
Stacks continues in what has been one of the longest musical teases in recent memory. Providing only sparse verses here and there with no project rumors even on the horizon while some already have him on their top 10 and 5 lists. The problem is that we fully embrace each and every feature, hang on each and every word…because he rarely lets us down. This song isn’t any different. Most of the innanets have already proclaimed this or “Bad Religion” as the best song on the album, and there isn’t any good reason to disagree. The airy nature that feels like an intro carries on until about two and a half minutes in. At that point the rest of the structure fills in and Dre does his thing.

since you been gone
I been having withdrawals
you were such a habit to call
I ain’t myself at all had to tell myself naw
she’s better with some fella with a regular job
I didn’t wanna get her involved
by dinner mr. benjamin was sittin in awe
hopped into my car drove far
far’s too close & I remember
my memories no sharp
butter knife what a life anyway
I’m building y’all a clock stop
what am I hemingway
she had the kind of body
that would probably intimidate
any of ‘em that were un-southern
not me cousin
if models are made for modeling
thick girls are made for cuddlin’
switch worlds & we can huddle then
who needs another friend
I need to hold your hand
you’d need no other man
we’d flee to other lands

16. Forrest Gump
Produced by Frank Ocean and James Ho
I imagine the letter that had everyone talking was most closely related to this song. It’s a whimsical, care-free trip down memory lane on a lost love. Using Forrest Gump as the metaphor for a gentile pure love that maybe wasn’t as mature as it was natural. You don’t have to rock with the lifestyle to get this song or appreciate the creativity. Frank even went as far as to get the actual soundbites and make some references to the movie. The music has a bit of a country feel to it, in the most R&B way possible. The twang of the guitar and the whistling help really round this track out.

Bottom Line:
Ocean has reignited hope and excitement in R&B by creating a sincere project that seems to be the lovechild of some of our favorites. There is a definite Purple Rain musical vibe to the production and the vocals feel like left over tracks from Musiq Soulchild. He manages to channel some of the spirit of them and others without overdoing or forcing the moments. With each listen it has gotten better and more infectious. I’ve listened to this album basically nonstop since it came out and I have yet to get tired of it. He’s managed to keep it simple, entertaining, and honest in a time when everyone is clamoring to the sounds of the club scene and chasing the charts. I’m positive that this album will win awards be they Billboard, BET or Grammy’s. channel Orange is a definite album of the year contender that everyone needs to tune in to…this may be the best program on radio.