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July 23, 2012 | by  | in Arts Music |
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Review – Frank Ocean: Channel Orange

Watershed moments come few and far between for musical genres. 19 days ago the notoriously homophobic hip-hop and R&B had one of those moments, when Frank Ocean became the first major artist to come out, revealing himself to be bisexual through a beautifully poetic letter posted on his Tumblr page.

The coming out of Frank Ocean signalled the coming-of-age for a movement which has been brewing recently: A$AP Rocky calling homophobia “immature”, Ocean’s fellow OFWGKTA-member Syd tha Kyd’s open lesbianism, and underground New York’s hyper-homosexual rap scene including Mykki Blanco and Zebra Katz. While the cynic may see Ocean’s coming out as very well timed with his album release, both the cultural significance of his revealing and the pure quality of the album overshadow and trivialise the publicity-stunt-ness of the move.

It is with this backdrop of sexuality with which channel ORANGE is inextricably linked, and it’s themes of love, disillusionment, inner turmoil and inequality are drenched in this underlying narrative—a narrative which alternates between male and female subjects. When he opens with the line “a tornado flew around my room” and talks of unusual rain, his metaphor applies to his subject as much as to the climate in which the album was released. Throughout the album, it is easy to see Ocean’s years of honing his craft as a songwriter for the likes of Beyoncé and Justin Bieber have paid off handsomely.

Production-wise, the album follows a similar interlude-laden format to Ocean’s debut mixtape, nostalgia, ULTRA. The beats are cleaner, tighter, darker, and reach far greater heights than any of his previous works. The opulent ‘Sweet Life’ is jazzy and funk-inspired, the drug-themed ‘Crack Rock’ appropriately moody. Vocally, Ocean is terrific throughout, displaying a clear falsetto and perfectly executed diversity in his delivery.

If you listen to one song from the album, let it be 10-minute epic ‘Pyramids’, the tale of a strip club worker which serves as channel ORANGE’s crowning jewel.

As a musical document, channel ORANGE easily excels on its own merits. Combined with the cultural context which surrounds it, it becomes truly special.

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