Posts Tagged ‘industry’

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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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power couples.

November 17, 2009

Looking at the current music industry, I find it interesting how a lot of the biggest stars have attached themselves to one another.  Beyoncé and Jay-Z are considered the golden couple of R&B / hip-hop, and although they are both megastars and extremely talented in their own right (and have lots of independent ventures, and carved out their own careers independently before getting together), it’s the fact that they are together which makes them seem almost invincible.  When you listen to some of Beyoncé’s love songs, you can imagine her singing about Jay-Z; when she has a song like “Diva” which exudes confidence in a hip-hop style, you assume that Jay-Z had something to do with that attitude.  Even if it’s not the case.  Likewise, on Robin Thicke’s new song “Meiplé”, Jay-Z raps about Beyoncé being the “black Brigitte Bardot”.

Running with the Beyoncé example, she teams up with artists such as Shakira and Lady Gaga (whoever’s hot, basically) to cement her status as one of music’s elite.  Just like Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, or Timbaland and Nelly Furtado.  Relationships-wise, remember the furore over Britney Spears and Justin back in the day?  Their relationship elevated them to supernova-level megastardom, and was a massive element in their fame and success.  Interestingly, when they broke up, things just weren’t the same.  I think as members of the public, we like a couple who are balanced musically and seem to fit each other personally – it seems like fairytales can happen.  And when they self-destruct and we’re forced to admit that the fairytale was something created by the public and the media that the celebrities could never live up to, it’s just not the same.  I’m sure that there are some people who would attribute Britney’s entire marriage to Kevin Federline and her subsequent meltdown to the fact that her and Justin broke up, regardless of the reasons behind that breakup or the other factors in Britney’s life that added to her downward spiral (and subsequent resurgence).  I think that the same is happening with Rihanna and Chris Brown at the moment – however good their music / dancing / fashion might be, the fact that they were part of a couple – however much they would deny it to the paparazzi – made them seem that little bit more gilded in superstardom.  Now that they’ve split up, regardless of who beat who, they’re both experiencing some backlash (despite the fact that in both cases, their new material is certainly up to par, if not better, than their previous work).  What’s up with that?

I was thinking about this not because I ruminate daily on Beyoncé and Rihanna’s love lives, but because the same kind of thing has happened at uni.  Consciously or not, several of us within our course have paired off – not in a romantic sense, but just attached ourselves to one best friend.  There’s Pete and Emma, Penny and Daisy, Julie and Clare, among others – and of course me and Mike.  Talking about Mike and me, we’re the unofficial ‘leaders’ of our group – everyone seems to look to us whenever we speak in class, whenever someone needs to volunteer to do something in the group, organising social events.  I dread to think what would have happened if one of us didn’t smoke – we wouldn’t have had the chance to gel so instantly (on the first morning, Mike came up to me and said “Do you smoke?” “Yes.” “I thought it was you outside.  THANK GOD.  I smoke too!” and that was it!).  But I still think that because of the people we are, we would have found each other before too long.  It’s interesting how we seem to attract others around us, be they members of the aforementioned pairs, or others.  At first, there was a pair of the two youngest girls, Jenny and Sian, but as time’s gone on, Jenny has started to explore life on the dark side (i.e. she’s hanging out with me, Mike and Vikki) and loosened up to have some fun.  There’s a sense of charisma and magnetism that pairs who get on well exude without even much effort.  I wonder if those in our group who don’t come out for social drinks, who turn up to uni alone and go home alone, are enjoying it quite as much?  I know that the point of the course is not to have fun and socialise, but I like to work hard and play hard, and I think it’s a good balance for getting the most from this experience.

The funny thing was one night recently when Mike couldn’t come out.  I was still the social ringleader, but I did have a couple of comments such as “So what is Mike doing tonight?”  “How is Mike?” “You won’t smoke as much tonight since your smoking partner isn’t here.”  Me and Mike texted during the evening (he was sad he couldn’t be there, I was updating him on the scandal and gossip as the night progressed), but I thought it was interesting how people still kinda saw me as the ringleader, but thought that he and me were inseparable to the point of knowing each other’s business inside out.  I told Mike about it on Sunday when I saw him, and we laughed at the fact people seem to have the conception that we cannot exist without one another (I’ve heard one person say “Mike loves you, he follows you everywhere!” when I don’t see it as following, I just see it as a natural gravitation towards one another) – last time I checked, I managed 23.8 years of my life without Mike, and he managed even more without me.

Once you become a part of a “power couple” in whatever sense, does that make you inferior when you act on your own?  As much as I enjoy being part of the “Mike & I” leadership party, I’m still my own person.  Me and Mike have a lot in common, but we’re different in a lot of ways too, and I don’t need him to function.  And vice versa!  I think that having a companion or partner in crime makes you feel stronger, bolder and more confident, but it doesn’t mean that without the other person, you’re nothing.  I wonder what Jay-Z thinks about his position in hip-hop’s elite, and whether this position would be compromised were he to divorce Beyoncé tomorrow.  Sometimes a friendship or relationship brings along with it a certain amount of social bank or clout, but that’s not the sole reason why we should be friends with anyone – we just gel with people and connect from there.  Because at the end of the day, people may see a certain facet of us in the public eye – whether we’re celebrities or just day-to-day people – but behind closed doors or in the privacy of our own relationship, we have that connection for reasons people don’t understand unless they’re willing to plumb the depths below the surface.