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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Best of 2012 Round-Up: channel Orange by Frank Ocean

Here’s the year-end round up, where I’ll review the albums that made our Top 10 List of 2012. Will I review all of the albums up there? God no. Fuck Swans and their 8 hour albums. I’m a busy man. But I will be cleaning up some albums that I, and some of the staff, loved from last year. So here we are. Time for the first article. Let’s get started. Okay, stop reading this awkward transition and go to the actual article.

Frank Ocean is part of Tyler, The Creator’s Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, although he seems like an outsider to me. For starters, he doesn’t really have that “fuck everything” attitude that permeates every inch of OFWGKTA’s music. But he’s also comes off as an outsider to music. And this album is a perfect distillation as to why he’s different.

For starters, he’s got this wisdom beyond his years. I was surprised to find out he was only 25. He sounds like he’s 45, and has been through hell and back in those years. He’s surprisingly calm and serene in his voice, lyrics, and music, giving it a sense that he’s come to terms everything as a truth of himself, his lovers, and the world he inhabits. There’s no anger, no joy; just cold acceptance of the harshness of reality. And his voice is a huge asset when it comes to this; he doesn’t have the strongest voice, especially compared to someone like The Weeknd or John Legend, but he’s able to make an emotional appeal that outweighs any vocal weakness.
Pandas, champagne, and lotion always make me sad

It’s hard to separate the social context of the lyrics from the album. This is partially due to the emotion behind the lyrics, but also the bombshell Ocean dropped a short time before the album’s release. You see, he came out that at 19, his first love was a man (you can read the statement there, which followed the Based God-based pre-announcement). As a straight, white male, it’s hard for me to be able to speak on how it may affect not only Frank’s career, but R&B and hip-hop music and culture. But, in essence, there’s a lot of homophobia in black culture. Prior to Obama’s support of gay marriage, only 41% of African-Americans supported it, and since Obama’s support, the leader of the Nation of Islam denounced it. Not to mention the tens of thousands of rap songs that have less than subtle homophobic undertones, or at the very least pro-heterosexual undertones. It was a major risk for Ocean to come out, but any possible damage remains to be seen.

However, this announcement gives significant context to Ocean’s lyrics. Songs like “Forest Gump” and “Thinkin’ Bout You” become that much more personal and real to the listener. Given his history of being a writer for both male and female singers, it wouldn’t be hard to think that these songs were just coming from another voice, another character. But now we can believe that these songs came from deep within, adding another layer to music with plenty of layers. In fact, this album is so layered, that it very well could be nothing more than what it presents itself – a series of beautiful, heartfelt songs.

But “Bad Religion” is the centerpiece of Ocean’s sexual identity, and one of the stand out tracks on the album, with an Islamic taxi cab driver acting as his shrink, while Ocean ponders religion, and its effects on him as a bisexual or homosexual man. Should he hate himself for being this way, or should he hate a god that he’s loved and been faithful to for his entire life? For those in the LGBT community and practice any of The Big 3 religions, this is a common conundrum they face, leading to the high rates of suicide and depression amongst those who attend gay-to-straight conversion camps. This Rap Genius article explains it better than I ever could, so read that.

I haven’t had a chance to invest too much time into his first mixtape/album thing, Nostalgia, Ultra, but if channel Orange is anything to go by, it’ll be worth a listen. There’s a reason this album is a top pick by most of our staff, and has had top finishes across a variety of publications around the world. Do yourself a favor, and check out channel Orange. Speaking of favors, do yourself another favor and like Frogs on a Log on Facebook.

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