Frank Ocean Channel Orange

Frank OceanChannel Orange
Try as one might, one can't help but flash a furtive eyebrow or two at the curious timetabling between Frank Ocean effectively outing himself and the album release date of Channel Orange. Engineered or not, the ensuing publicity would have been hollow if the album was a dud ― it is not. Make no mistake, though: Channel Orange isn't a masterpiece. What it is, frankly speaking, is one of the brightest R&B-flavoured projects to touch the mainstream in a long time. While lacking the immediacy of much-heralded mixtape Nostalgia, ULTRA, Channel Orange is strategically loose and genuinely artistic in its construction. In melding accessible melodies with conveniently obtuse lyrics (see: the sublime, Stevie Wonder-sounding "Sweet Life"), the reserved 24-year-old singer/songwriter speaks to the black experience rarely expressed upon such a vulnerable platform. Gifted? It's too early to say. Talented? An emphatic, "hells yeah." Just bear witness to Ocean killing it with his falsetto on the dreamily seductive "Thinking Bout You," mark out as he evokes vintage Prince with "Lost" and vibe as Ocean and Odd Future standout Earl Sweatshirt examine the vapidity of young money ("Super Rich Kids") over urgent-sounding piano keys. Whether it's discussing the political ("Crack Rock"), entrancing with electro rhythms ("Pyramids") or ruminating about a lost lover on an overvalued track ("Bad Religion"), Channel Orange wears its progressive R&B heart on its sleeve. In the grand scheme of things, Ocean's fluid sexuality is both immaterial and momentous. But those getting caught up over this element are missing the point: Channel Orange is simply good shit. (Def Jam/Universal)