Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What We're Listening To - Frank Ocean's nostalgia, ULTRA.

I had put off listening to Frank Ocean for some time. I don't really dig much of modern R&B, and his association with shock rap collective Odd Future just kind of turned me cold. We have plenty of hypersexed crooners rocking the airwaves right now.

But his crooning on Watch The Throne piqued my interest, especially his notes on Made In America (maybe they can book him for the MLK Memorial dedication later this month in DC). It was tender and pure, and at the very least deserved a longer look.

nostalgia, ULTRA. is a near flawless debut album with pitch perfect singing, brand name production, smart lyrics and a groove that won't quit. it is challenging in the most desirable way possible.

Frank Ocean (nee Christopher Breaux) released it for free on his tumblr in February after Def Jam signed and ignored him. Since then, critics have heaped huge amounts of praise on it and Def Jam is scrambling to figure out how to give it a formal release. The album, while not only great, is a perfect picture of everything that's wrong with major labels.

Ocean has a keen ear towards what makes good pop music. He's penned a song for The Beebs (which doesn't disqualify him... people's gotta eat). But there're no R&B throwback covers here. He adds new lyrics and soul to Coldplay's Strawberry Swing, adds more sex to MGMT's Electric Feel, and ups the despair and indulgence of Hotel California. Even Radiohead's Optimistic makes a cameo (if only to serve as his foil that "bitches" would rather listen to Jodeci)

But on the original tracks, the boards are turned over to super producers Tricky Stewart and Midi Mafia (behind hits like Umbrella, Single Ladies, 21 Questions). But that only serves to make them radio friendly for your ear. Ocean is an artist with much on his mind and his lyrics go beyond just being sexy. They're thoughtful, humble and incredibly self aware. Songs For Women is a peek inside his head on his music and why he does it. Lovecrimes is backed by Nicole Kidman's tirade from Eyes Wide Shut

Novacane could be your newest sexytime jam (put it on random with Washed Out and you've got an all night party), a compelling story of girl he met at Coachella and the incredible high she gives him. And if there's any doubt his voice isn't the real deal, We All try is magnificent.

Ocean isn't as corny as Drake and not as earnest as Bruno Mars. He's more nimble and intelligent than Trey Songz, and not as overt or agressive as Chris Brown. Hopefully nostalgia, ULTRA and Frank Ocean mark the turning point for sensual, thoughtful contemporary R&B.

No comments: