Have You Heard? – (18) “Channel Orange” by Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean is a singer from New Orleans who is part of the LA-based Odd Future collective. “Channel Orange” is his first solo album. I have my son Kieran to thank for putting me on to this. It may well be my album of the year.

The album is the best jazzrapsoul album I have heard for a long time. I use that expression jazzrapsoul to try to sum up a sound that covers all those bases and had its hey day in the 1990s when the fusion of sounds was really taking off.  I think back to the amazing “Rebirth of Cool” CD series in the UK, and artists like Maxwell (with his album “Urban Hang Suite”), Urban Species (“Blanket”) and D’Angelo (“Brown Sugar”). It’s in the spirit of the music played by DJ Gilles Peterson, about whom I’ve blogged before (see my Have You Heard 6).

The beats are really fresh, absolutely today’s sound.  But Frank’s singing and the vibe of the music conjures up so many images of Stevie Wonder, Prince and even Marvin Gaye for me. These are compliments – I’m not saying the sound is derivative.  It’s exactly the opposite.  While it reminds you of great sounds, it is distinctly the sound of Frank Ocean. He has made something quite original, from the materials of today and the past.

The subject material is quite dark.  There are stories of decadence, drugs, all the usual effects of too much money.  The big story at the time the album was released was Frank’s confession that he had a gay side – anathema to to the macho rap community. But that seems to have little relevance to the album, as far as I can tell.  Unless grappling with the issue has influenced the darkness of the lyrics.

It’s all about the music. Fantastic  jazzy soul beats, brilliant soulful singing, which really does remind you of Stevie Wonder and Prince – which is as good as it gets, as far as I am concerned.  And some rap interventions which are integral, not just show off pieces.

Every time I listen to this album it gets better. New aspects are revealed. But right now here are a few of my favourite tracks, to give you a taster. Best if you go and download the whole lot. Click on any of these and you can listen while reading the rest of the blog by just clicking back on the page.

Thinkin Bout You is a classic soulful opener.  It may relate to the gay experience, but I haven”t really studied the lyrics.

Super Rich Kids (feat. Earl Sweatshirt) is self explanatory. There’s some good rapping and an underlying beat which sounds like it might have come from Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets”. The singing sounds like it could be “Innervision” era Stevie Wonder, which really is the very best.

Crack Rock again is an obvious subject, but there is a beautiful melancholy about it and I can hear Prince singing “If I Was Your Girlfriend” somewhere in the ether.

Brilliant stuff, and there is so much more.

One to buy and cherish as the layers peel away.

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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