Saturday, May 06, 2017

Channel Orange (2012)

On and off for a few years now Frank Ocean's first album (which followed on the 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra) has been a pretty reliable staple around my place, especially in shuffle where its strongest songs do what listening to music is supposed to do, even with Ocean's characteristic tossed-off air: call attention to itself, build on the experience of hearing it, and erase time. My favorites include "Sierra Leone," "Super Rich Kids," "Lost," "Crack Rock," "Forrest Gump," and I'm sure I'm missing a few more, it's that kind of generous album. Though sloppy at their edges, the distracting word play and especially the melodies of these songs are often their own reward. You don't always get both together. "Crack Rock" insinuates with its mournful air and stubborn persistence but decrying the drug use the way it does is so clichéd I keep thinking it must be a put-on. Scanning down the track list, you will note there are three or four tracks around a minute or less, suggesting the dread indulgence of skits (a holdover of CD technology obviated by shuffle, compare lock-grooves with vinyl). But they're painless, two of them over in the first three tracks, bracketing the hit. Channel Orange starts on "Start," a 45-second sound abstraction with familiar downloading and computer sounds, then goes into the #32 "Thinkin' 'Bout You," and then the 39-second "Fertilizer," which is closer to a song fragment. From then on it's a solid set of quirky songs, with flashes of utter brilliance and moving displays of emotion, occasionally sustained. The lengthy "Pyramids" is an example of his perversities. It runs to nearly 10 minutes, starting with a stately march that seems to take place in ancient Egypt and gradually morphing into strip club scenes in the modern world. Love as usual escapes the singer and the sadness is infinitely sweet on the chorus. "Super Rich Kids" is one of the more sustained tracks, with a languorous pace and sultry grace. "The maids come around too much, parents ain't around enough"—the unbearable pain of fake friends, abandonment, and all the creature comforts. Channel Orange ends on the two-minute "End," which maybe picks up where "Start" finished even as it seems intended to loop back again? You tell me. I love parts of these songs madly—usually the chorus. And if the rest veers between self-indulgence and brainy ingenuity it's no less entertaining for that. Like I said, good for shuffle.

1 comment:

  1. Mostly, I share your enthusiasm. At first the fragmented incompleteness of so many tracks was an obstacle for me but eventually the studio wankery gels into something pleasant enough and several songs emerge as earworm bliss; "Thinkin' 'Bout You," "Super Rich Kids," etc. Now, the new one, Blonde, same problems, skits, studio filler galore, but I'm still waiting to connect w/ a song. Still, gorgeously languorous music.