Posts Tagged ‘bravery’

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Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (album review)

July 17, 2012

The first I time I took notice of Frank Ocean was when I found out that he was the writer of one of my favourite songs, “I Miss You” from Beyoncé’s 4. By this point, he was already gaining some buzz as a member of the Odd Future collective, and so I downloaded his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra. I fell in love with songs such as “Novocane” and “American Wedding” immediately, while others such as “Swim Good” and “Strawberry Swing” grew on me after a couple of listens. I was convinced that Ocean was indeed skilled at creating R&B that was a bit more grown than the electro-dance recycling going on in the charts, and that focused on exploring human emotions. In this way, he set himself apart in my mind, and I was excited to see what he would do next.

Enter channel Orange. If anything, it’s less accessible than Nostalgia, Ultra. or than many of the songs that make up Ocean’s mammoth The Lonny Breaux Collection. For the most part, songs don’t announce themselves (and certainly not with typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structures) as much as their melodies seep into your head with repeated listens. However, between the lush instrumentation (and there is definitely genuine instrumentation going on here; these are more than just pre-paid beats) and resonating lyrics, after each listen one takes away something more from the experience. channel ORANGE is a meticulously crafted piece of work, and there is much to discuss. It’s at times difficult to penetrate the chilled, hazy vibe of the album to find a meaty hook of the type that we’re used to – and I feel it would have been nice to have had more of these sprinkled through the album – but there’s nevertheless plenty of sustenance here.

Opening track “Thinkin Bout You” is possibly the most immediate song on the record, and it’s utterly beautiful: the way Ocean uses his falsetto is reminiscent of Prince, and evokes the feelings of at once being totally in love and feeling totally alone in that love, desolate and desperate. While not a technical vocalist to rival R. Kelly or Usher, Frank Ocean knows how to use his voice to maximum effect. The lyrics in the song evoke the unrequited first love that we all knew, and that Ocean wrote about so eloquently in his open letter posted on tumblr. The bravery of an R&B star, of a black man with ties to and props from the largely chauvinist hip hop community, to come out as bisexual two weeks before his album was released has not gone unnoticed, and should not be ignored; rightly so, it appears that Ocean’s success – and I personally believe that even without the announcement / confirmation of his sexuality, channel ORANGE would have been a hit – has been bolstered. Support has been largely overflowing, and it would appear that at last, times might be changing – and not just because Obama and Jay-Z gave black men permission to support their fellow man if that man happened to be gay or bisexual. But in terms of the music and in terms of Ocean’s letter, the focus pulls away from the object of his affections being male or female to the beauty and the intricacy of the sentiment. Sometimes Ocean sings to a boy, sometimes to a girl – but 100% of the time, it sounds beautiful, the lyrics are deep and honest, and the songs as a whole don’t simplify but rather reflect the complexity of the subject matter of being infatuated, in love and lost in love. “Bad Religion”, another standout on the album, begins with a howling organ which Ocean’s plaintive vocal joins to express his loneliness and despair. Lines like “I can’t tell you the truth about my disguise” and “It’s a bad religion to be in love with someone who could never love you” are at once more detailed than what one finds in a typical R&B song for the radio, and yet the emotions of someone in love can’t be put much more simply, or laid bare any more.

Subject matter on channel ORANGE doesn’t just limit itself to romance found and lost, but tackles other topics too. “Super Rich Kids” explores precisely that, but the lyrics could apply equally to the inhabitants of Ladera Heights and to the wealthy-yet-jaded entertainers in the music industry: “Too many bottles of this wine we can’t pronounce…too many white lies and white lines…nothing but fake friends.” The coda which robs the hook from Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” lends the track an air of nostalgia while giving the listener something recognisable to grab onto. “Crack Rock” likens loneliness to drug addiction, and fastens to these emotions details of being ostracised by family and society. In some ways “Pyramids” is the centrepiece of the album – an epic 10 minutes that starts out evoking Egyptian deserts, before seguing into a sexier exploration of making love to a stripper called Cleopatra. While lyrically drawing parallels between how women were and are at once worshipped and subjugated by men, the production starts off bouncy, transitions through seductive into sleazy, and fades out with a howling guitar Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix would be proud of.

Interludes give the album a sense of constant flow, and the overarching feel is nostalgia-soaked classic quality. channel ORANGE isn’t immediately accessible to non-R&B heads, and rewards repeated listens. If I could improve anything about the album, while I commend its artistry and sense of originality and self, it would be nice for some of the songs to have some more standout hooks. But overall, Frank Ocean has done himself and the world of R&B proud with this album – it’s deep, intelligent, textured and heartfelt.

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Beyoncé – 4 (album review)

June 11, 2011

So it’s been a really, really long time since I wrote an album review. I was going to do one for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, but then didn’t. (The album is really good and well put-together, btw.) I was going to do one for Nadia Oh’s Colours (which is a ridiculously fun, exhilarating listen perfect for the summer) and I still might. But this album tops them all. I am a Beyoncé fan, but even I didn’t expect her to come out with this. Perhaps it’s fitting because of the stage in my life where I’m at – but she’s in love, I’m in love, she wants to talk about love on a deeper and more soulful level and I can be more receptive of that now and really get to grips with the music, the vocals and the lyrics.

Sonically, the album is very cohesive (a mature, soulful and slower-paced set) – “Run The World (Girls)” aside. Part of me feels like it is tacked on the end, another part of me feels like the song is an exhilarating climax to a mainly slow-burning set. It’s a killer single which heavily samples Major Lazer’s “Pon Di Floor” and makes you want to dance, but in comparison to the rest of the material, it feels a bit… basic? It certainly feels more modern than everything else on the album, but that means it sounds less timeless… the fact that Beyoncé has already made several songs celebrating “Independent Women”, “Survivors” and “Single Ladies” makes it feel like “Girls” running the world is almost a downgrade? I love the song but it should stand alone, and I would have preferred the album to end with the ballad “I Was Here”, which is straightforward Ryan Tedder production and Diane Warren lyrics – Beyoncé’s performance saves the song with solemn vocals that add weight to the sentiment of leaving your mark on the world once you’re gone. In the hands of a lesser talent, the song would sound trite, but Beyoncé gives it life.

But there are much better tracks – namely, the rest of them. Opener “1+1” is stripped-back soul with a soaring guitar climax, and Beyoncé’s commands of “Make love to me” sound at once desperate and assertive in the best way. What’s striking is that Beyoncé has made an album that sounds like the work of a legend – she evokes Stevie Wonder (the joyous “Love On Top” with its audacious multiple key changes that have you wondering “how high is she going to go?!”), the Isley Brothers (“Rather Die Young”, with its sun-drenched soul that declares Beyoncé’s utter dependance on her lover), Prince (“1+1”), Michael Jackson (“End Of Time” with its commanding vocals over a bombastic bassline and brass section, and an irresistible melody) and Sade. But more about that later…

Beyoncé sounds like Beyoncé on but two songs: “Best Thing I Never Had” evokes her monster hit “Irreplaceable”, with the same theme of being better off without a foolish boyfriend. Symbolyc One employs a beautiful flowing piano melody in place of “Irreplaceable”‘s acoustic guitars, but Beyoncé is clearly a grown woman now. Her vocals sound almost too soulful, too nuanced for the music, and it takes a few listens for all of the pieces of the song to come together. In contrast, “Countdown” is an album highlight, which evokes the swagger of “Upgrade U” and repeats the theme of #winning with her lover by her side. The use of Boyz II Men’s “Uhh Ahh” in order to create the titular countdown is cleverly done, and Beyoncé rides the brassy, bouncy Caribbean-lite beat with effortless flair.

Other album highlights include “I Care”, which may have basic lyrics (the chorus: “I care / I know you don’t care too much / but I still care”) but are once again transformed with Beyonce’s masterful vocal, which plumbs despair and soul to make the song truly transcendent. You can feel her pain, you can feel her desperation, you can feel her frustration, and that is the talent of a true artist. When Beyoncé’s voice intertwines with a soaring guitar solo after the song’s bridge, the listener is shown just how powerful a singer she is – not just technically, but emotively too. “Party” is an early 90s R&B throwback that evokes early TLC in its chunky-yet-chilled production, and En Vogue in its multi-tracked harmonies. The best song of all is “I Miss You”, which is produced by upcoming talent Frank Ocean and evokes Sade’s best. The lyrics are simple yet evocative (and I personally relate to this as my boyfriend and I are currently working through a long-distance relationship – but if you read the blog, you already know about that, and this song is more about missing someone you’ve broken up with – I just prefer to appropriate the lyrics for my own emotions!), and Beyoncé’s vocal is restrained and yet so deep and real. When she sings “No matter who you love / it is so simple, I feel it / it’s everything”, a lump is brought to your throat and you can’t help but be transported to a place of loneliness, of longing and of love.

This is why 4 is Beyoncé’s best album, superceding B’day’s tiger-hungry anthems and I Am… Sasha Fierce’s finest moments. Beyoncé is an artist. She has made an album which she has so clearly poured her heart and soul into – listening to the vocals, there is something here that wasn’t there before. A soulfulness, a longing, a power that comes out through the gritty texture of her voice and the soaring riffs that transcend lyrics and production. There’s a majesty and a bravery in singing such raw songs about love, about death, and about life over productions that are mainly understated and subtle in a way that Beyoncé hasn’t really done before (“Disappear” from I Am… Sasha Fierce might have clued us in, however!). This album is made to be listened to from start to finish, and you’re missing out if you don’t give it a try.

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stupid lucky.

May 14, 2010

I haven’t written in a week, and that’s because I don’t really know what to say.  I don’t just want to write album reviews because that’s just one facet of this site.  I just don’t know how to word how stupid, how complacent I have been, and yet how much I have overthought things and let my overthinking nearly ruin my relationships (both friendships and romantic).  And yet, I’ve been so lucky, because I’ve realised in time, and I managed to put aside my pride, my severe need for independence, and let someone else in.  I’m so lucky because I am with somebody who realises my problems without me necessarily saying anything, and he is willing to stand by me while I work on myself and work it out.

Nobody is perfect, and I’m pretty hard on myself.  Everyone says that, and I suppose that it’s true.  But I think it’s so illogical, so backwards that I can love other people and yet I can’t love myself? How does that work?  I do love aspects of myself, but I also hate things about me.  I guess that’s normal, but the things that I hate seem to throb, vibrate and I constantly am aware of them.  I guess that as I get older, I’ll learn to accept these things and feel them less vividly, but I don’t understand how someone can love me with all of these faults that I have.  So on the one hand, I cover up any weaknesses and portray myself as sociable, confident and outgoing, so that nobody will know that I have these weaknesses.  Sometimes I can even trick myself into believing that I am this way. And yet on the other hand, I find it so hard to let anyone get truly close to me, lest they see who I really am and go running a mile.  Pushing people away has been easier for me, and I finally realised that I have someone so precious that I don’t want to push away.  So I am learning to let him in, because I do love him.  I just feel so stupid that it got to the point where I could nearly have lost him to really wake me up and finally allow him to see me for who I am.

That’s why I feel so stupid and yet so lucky.  Looking at my family, thinking of my past, I shock people when I tell little stories about the emotional abuse I endured growing up.  Things that are nothing compared to the atrocious things some people suffer, but which niggle my brain and fold into my subconscious until they are a part of me.  I shudder when I recognise parts of my mother’s personality becoming more blatant within me.  Mike and Toby both laugh, but I know that they are surprised… adding up why I am the way I am, impressed that I seem to have made it out more or less ok, confused as to how it all happened to me.  And when they tell me things about them, I guess that I go through the same process. Getting to know someone, not just the good but the bad too, is a cautious evaluation that involves trust on both sides.  And I’ve finally learned enough to know that if I chose to be alone this time and forsake someone who seems to offer me everything I could need for the sake of independence and security, then I truly would be stupid.  I’m glad to say that I’m not that stupid anymore. 🙂

Love is risk.  Misery can be like a pillow, so comfortable and familiar.  If Toby is brave enough to reach out his hand to me and offer me a way to happiness (and this whole year has taught me that I can be happy, that I deserve to be), then all I have to do is push my way up through my own fears and insecurities and take it.  That was really scary, but I did it.  I am with him now, and it feels really good to open myself up to that feeling.  I think I can make it, and I think that life will be good.  Looking at my family again, I don’t want to have a relationship where there’s constantly drama and sadness and questioning.  I know that a certain element of that is inevitable, but when it takes over the joy of being with somebody… I don’t need that.  I don’t want to end up like that.  After all, like I said in a previous entry, not everyone gets the chance for love.  I have that chance, and all I have to do is take it.  So I’m taking it.  Deep breath, here we go.  I am truly, truly lucky.

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love hurts.

March 3, 2010

Peep the new video to Nivea’s newest song, “Love Hurts”.

I am a fan of Nivea’s music, because she seems to have some artistic control, she has a strong pen game, a lovely voice and most importantly (for this blog entry at least), she wears her heart on her sleeve.  She has her fun club songs, swagger and confidence songs, but she also has love songs that seem to express from the heart her emotions (check “Complicated” and “ILY”).  This new track is no different.  What strikes me about the song and particularly about the video is how fearless she is in confronting her imperfections, her indiscretions and her pain.  By getting Lil’ Wayne (her ex and babyfather) to star in the video as her love interest, she’s vividly bringing to life her regret. There’s no subtext – only text.  Personally I don’t know how wise it is to be so utterly open with your conflicted emotions and reliving your love found and lost for all to see, but it’s undeniably brave and makes for compelling reading and listening.

I remember when I started my course at uni and I told a couple of people that I had some of my music on myspace.  One of them who went and listened to it said that he was really surprised how deep the lyrics were for someone of my age.  I think part of it is to do with my upbringing, seeing my parents constantly battling, going back and forth between love and hate, raging arguments that occasionally got quite violent.  As a child, it was a lot to handle and I don’t think that it’s something that ever leaves you, although I also readily acknowledge that many people go through a lot worse.  But that was more than enough for me to handle.  I think that being taught from an early age that “love is pain” is a realistic but not particularly healthy lesson to learn, and I often wonder how I ended up as seemingly well-adjusted as I have! *insert laughter here* I think that’s why I’ve often had tortured feelings for people I can’t have, why I blatantly have control issues (being conscious of power games), daddy issues and have emotionally attached myself to older, bad-boy style men, and why I was so nervous in starting my current relationship.  It took me about a month and a half to really see and appreciate how lucky I am, how wonderful my boyfriend is and to learn just to breathe, take it easy and start to be open to him about my vulnerabilities, my flaws and all.

Who knows what will happen in the future?  But right now, I am learning that although sometimes love does hurt and has hurt me in the past, it doesn’t always have to be that way.  Love can lift you up, and should lift you up more than it tears you down.  If I were either of my parents, I would have gotten divorced.  But although as a child I prayed for that nightly at times, I am glad that they didn’t and I admire their strength of commitment even though I still wholeheartedly believe that if it were me, I wouldn’t have deemed it worth it to go through what they went through.  But my parents’ relationship is not really any of my business – it’s between them and I can only complain when their shit affects me (which I do, when appropriate).  When does the point come when you put yourself first, your sanity and your heart?  Watching the above video, I wonder if Nivea has really started putting herself first or if she’s still in the midst of an emotional battle and a broken heart?  It is compelling viewing and listening, but it also really makes me think and I wonder if heartbreak and anguish is something a singer has to go through in order to really be able to write heartfelt lyrics and lend vocal credence and soul to singing those lyrics.  I guess that that’s why I had that feedback (and received comments on my lyrics and vocals throughout my singing ‘career’ to date) from my songs on myspace.  To me, my lyrics can and will get deeper as I continue to write and record, and my voice is edgier and more soulful live than it is on record.  (Those are my shortcomings with the technology, which is a constant work in progress!)

In short, I (like Nivea, I suppose) wear my heart on my sleeve, feel pain and am glad to be finally learning to appreciate love without the hurt that has come with it in the past, both in what I’ve experienced and also what I’ve learned from those surrounding me. I wonder if however, Nivea is torturing herself further by putting herself back in the situation with having Weezy in the video.  For me, that reenactment would rip me apart inside.  However she manages to keep it together, she’s a braver person than me and I salute that commitment to artistry and to baring one’s soul.

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confidant.

December 22, 2009

So today I spent time with Mike and my essay in the library at university, and it was nice.  The library was eerily quiet, I made up some stuff about my vocational development to date, and we had conversations.  Things are more or less back to normal now, with the easy camaraderie, jokes and giving me a lift home (which ended up in him finally meeting – waving to her from the car, anyway – my mother).  I’m seeing him tomorrow night to watch The Last Broadcast with his wife and sister-in-law, and I feel so blessed to have a friend who makes effort to include me and feels that he can do these things.

We spoke about the love triangle, or about aspects of it.  He said that he is past his obsession now, because nothing can ever happen, we’ve had some space (although it’s only been 5 days) and because she seems to be ruled by her husband.  Mike and I agree that we would never want to be in a relationship where we feel we have to answer to the other person, that we are sometimes subservient and that the other person is the boss.  It’s all a bit strange, because our friend doesn’t seem particularly subservient and is quite a sparky person, and yet she seems to actively toe the line when it comes to her husband’s paranoia (albeit maybe correct) about her new male friends at university.  She has been forbidden from coming to my house party at the beginning of January, because “she’s not a student” (although technically, she is), and yesterday when I was in Cabot Circus with Davina and Deena, I found out she was popping down so I would have liked to say hello, but as she was with her husband it wasn’t going to happen.  I’m glad that Mike says he is doing better – I’m not sure I believe him completely as it seems a bit premature to me, but it’s nice to hear him sound positive about it.

I wish I could say the same about me.  It’s been 5 years since I really fell in love hard for someone like this, and I feel like I’ve come so far since then, I’m a completely different person… and yet, I’m obviously not. Okay, I’m handling things again, and I’m not doing any worse than I was before either – our friendship is more or less back to normal, I’m more happy than I am sad (well, I get more wistful and wanting than really sad) because I made such a good friend, but sometimes I wish that I had a confidant like he does (which is me).  A lot of my friends I know don’t quite understand how I could want someone who is married, nor how the three of us ended up in this tangle of feelings – they just see it as entirely inappropriate, and while they aren’t necessarily wrong, it’s too simplistic a view. Mike, V and I – we’re all people with hearts and feelings and responsibilities to our own families, and just because they may be married doesn’t change the fact that they are still humans full of emotions.  Out of my friends who do understand this, I don’t get the opportunity to see them very often (maybe once every couple of weeks for an hour or so).  It’s difficult.

Mike can tell me about his infatuation (or as of today, conquering of) and explain his feelings to me. He knows that he can trust me, that I won’t judge him and that I will be his friend no matter what.  I know that I can tell Mike about my feelings for him, and that he won’t run away and he will try to understand. But it’s different – apart from the fact that it still twinges that Mike would never want me in that way, I feel like I am humbling or almost humiliating myself to explain the way that I feel and the feelings that I have to him.  It’s brave of us to cope with this, and sometimes I think we overestimate our own strength, but ultimately he’s not confessing his feelings to the person he’s feeling them for (although the three of us are all clear about who likes who – again, it’s messy).  I’m his best friend and his shoulder, and I feel privileged.  I think we’ll always be close, but it’s slightly different for me.  I wish there was someone (and by that I mean a physical someone here, I appreciate all of you guys taking the time to read this and your comments and encouragement on twitter etc.!) to whom I could pour this all out and not feel judged or told that I should move on or get over it, because they are married and have children.  I already know this, and I think I am more or less strong enough not to act on my feelings – that’s the saving grace of being able to talk to Mike about my feelings for him and he is able to listen and support me as a best friend.  But sometimes, just to have someone a little less in the thick of it than the direct object of my crush would be nice!  A confidant.