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. Andre 3000 is still playing with the same flow he used on Drake's "The Real Her," but it's a welcome inclusion. 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.
Photographer RJ Shaughnessy
June 22, 2012