Yesterday, Frank Ocean previewed his upcoming debut album “Channel Orange” to a room full of inudstry folk and bloggers in a New York studio. Check out the reviews of those in attendance below…
The Fader: The reason Frank Ocean is so interesting is not that he’s a great singer (he is) or that he is audacious enough to pen 10+ minute songs (he does), or that he uses his voice less as a virtuosic display of his singing ability, but more as a vehicle for his songs. Frank Ocean is especially interesting because of how he exists outside the general conventions of the music industry. For Channel Orange, his second release, but first official album, the first single, “Pyramids” is almost 10 minutes long and contains multiple movements—going from a big room rave to a more intimate push of sparse bass. His voice is high, beautifully thin, and so casual that most of his songs feel like a conversation. Last night we heard all of Channel Orange, which includes the already released “Pyramids” as its centerpiece. It’s a quietly ambitious record that features Ocean switching narrative points of view over lush, tasteful beats. The only guest is Andre 3000, who is still playing with the same flow he used on Drake’s “The Real Her,” and it’s a welcome inclusion and doesn’t feel out of place at all. Mostly though, the record is all Ocean—experimenting with lyrical perspective, experimenting with the flexibility of his voice, singing from the point of view of a spoiled rich kid, or as himself, or any number of other characters. The album feels organic, but not retro—a musical leap forward for both Ocean and the genre. It’s the sort of album that’s very much worth looking to as a blueprint for left-of-center artistic ambition, a way to grow without devolving into weirdness for weirdness’ sake.
Complex Mag: Frank Ocean doesn’t do things in the conventional way. Really, it’s a bit of a surprise that the self-made R&B star even held a listening session for his new album in a New York City recording studio yesterday.
Ocean’s original plan was just to put out his debut album, Channel Orange, on July 17 without media hype or fanfare—seemingly out of the blue. It’s a cool idea—one that worked for his mixtape, Nostalgia, ULTRA—but now that he’s signed to Def Jam the stakes are a bit higher this time around. So there he was Thursday afternoon in a red shirt, jeans, and black Vans, shaking hands with journalists who were eager for an Orange listen.
A man of few words, Ocean simply popped open his laptop and said “This is Channel Orange.” He gave no track names or production notes (for the purpose of this preview, we went with educated guesses). Nor did he explain so much as a single lyric. The album interludes sound like TV commercials, so that may explain the “channel” part of the title; as for “orange,” maybe it’s his favorite color or something.
Nope, Ocean didn’t say much at all; just hunched over the studio console and let the rhythms hit ’em. Here’s what Complex thought of them.
Pitchfork: While the Brill Building is mere blocks away from Def Jam‘s offices in midtown Manhattan, I like to think the location of yesterday’s listening session for Frank Ocean‘s major-label debut– Channel Orange, out July 17– was based on more than mere convenience.
Countless American classics were born in the building’s hallowed halls. So when a group of journalists sat down in a small, dimmed studio to take in the album, there was already a sense of history in the air.
Frank was there, his back turned to us, slowly bobbing his head along to the music. Before he played the record, he tested the sound system with a few seconds of Arthur Russell’s “Just a Blip”. He didn’t speak much. Holding an apparently specialized drink made for the occasion, he deadpanned: “They said this drink is called Channel Orange… that’s cool.” While he’s appreciative, it seemed that such party-planner details don’t mean very much to him.
Much like last year’s Nostalgia, Ultra, the lushly produced songs on Channel Orange are connected by tape-damaged interludes of dialogue and sound effects and warped snippets of tracks, giving things an intimate, homemade scope and feel. The record begins with an upgraded version of “Thinking About You” (now with gorgeous strings), and also features previously-heard tracks “Forrest Gump”, “Pyramids”, and “Super Rich Kids”. A distorted version of the Tumblr-leaked track “Voodoo” could be heard underneath the album’s outro.
Elsewhere, Ocean offers left turn after left turn, from psychedelic soul a la Sly Stone, to D’Angelo-style, keyboard-based R&B, to a politically-charged track delivered over a nimble beat reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest, to something akin to a spaced-out epic rock ballad in which a conversation with a cabbie inspires Ocean to ponder some of life’s big questions.
Needless to say, this is not your typical major-label R&B record. So when Andre 3000 showed up to offer some guest rapping and singing near the end of the album, it made a hell of a lot of sense.
Billboard: “I need a convertible, a lot of channel orange is convertible music. like a saab convertible,” Frank Ocean tweeted on June 20, a day before previewing his debut album, “Channel Orange,” at KMA Studios in New York on Thursday night (June 21).
Ocean has a point — “Channel Orange” (Island Def Jam, July 17) is an excursion in itself. His official debut, which opens with “Thinking About You,” gives prominence to his songwriting prowess and sonic versatility, as he intertwines the parallel styles of soul, R&B, jazz and even a bit of funk. Ocean feeds his appetite for different sound types by focusing more on sonics than structure and lacing “Channel Orange” with a mixture of bass lines, electronic synths, keys and flowing melodies. And don’t forget: this is Frank’s debut album.
The follow-up to last year’s lauded “Nostalgia/Ultra” mixtape includes hints of inspiration from legends as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Prince, The Roots and D’Angelo. Still, Ocean doesn’t adhere to one sound, nor shape himself into something that people could peg solely to R&B.Similar to “Nostalgia/Ultra,” Ocean connects the album with transitional interludes in which one hears the tampering of a cassette player, video game playing and some as sententious songs themselves. Lyrically, he’s a storyteller. He simultaneously unravels and explores — himself and those around him — through a diatribe of the privileged yet insatiable, (“Super Rich Kids,” featuring Odd Future‘s Earl Sweatshirt), soliloquies of heartbreak and abandonment, and confessionals. His falsetto breathes color into the content. At times, we see Ocean getting lost in the simplicity of beauty, or “domesticated paradise” — singing “Why see the world when you got the beach?” in what seems to be called “Sweet Life” — and telling tales of women, from what they bring to how they leave whether one step forward or two steps behind him. “Why I keep trying to keep a grown woman sober?… But I haven’t been touched by the dealer. I’m the stoner,” Frank Ocean sings on one track.
On one of his most honest songs, which opens with the pluck of a church organ, Ocean finds himself confessing his deepest demons to what sounds to be a taxi driver. “If it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion,” then later, “I can never make them love me.”
Ocean then transitions into another dark, intimate cut, reportedly titled “Pleasure,” singing, “Close my eyes and fall into you… my god, give me pleasure,” before Andre 3000 blesses Frank with two verses. “Models are made for modeling, thick girls are made for cuddling,” 3 stacks raps, then later, “I need to hold your hand, you need no other man.”
Before closing “Channel Orange” with a lingering taste of slinky, R&B, “Voodoo,” Frank Ocean serenades with the soulful, “Forrest Gump.””If this is love? I know it’s true. I won’t forget you,” he sings.
Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” Available 7.17.12!
Follow Frank Ocean on Twitter @Frank_Ocean
Click here to download “Swim Good” on Amazon