Top 18 Albums of 2012: #1 Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

This is the pimpest shit i’ve heard since Voodoo changed the way everyone made love 10 years ago. This is an elegant hip-hop/R&B crossover album, without the flamboyance we’ve come to expect from some singers. Frank Ocean is a smooth and classy dude and channel ORANGE is Exhibit A.

How do we value expressions of love? What about loss? What about the accompanying nostalgia? From where i rank this album, you can surmise my valuation of the previous questions. A lot of music is about amorous expressions and the mastery of capturing these emotions…To be able to do so as vividly as Frank Ocean is sublime. This is an album for everyone’s love…Doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what you stand for. He speaks to the love, loss and games that every one of us knows all too well.

The album’s opening track and single is, ‘Thinkin Bout You’:

Tell me that shit doesn’t make you tingle? Tell me it doesn’t make you wanna think about whoever is on YOUR mind right now? Human beings are passionate lovers by their very nature and Ocean knows how to appeal to our carnal desires.

He shows off his whimsy in ‘Super Rich Kids’ w/ Earl Sweatshirt. Waxing about the ritzy-titzy well-to-dos and their careless extravagant ways:

Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends
Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends

and dropping triple entendres like it’s nothing:

The market’s down like 60 stories
And some don’t end the way they should

My silver spoon has fed me good
A million one, a million cash
Close my eyes and feel the crash

While it’s important to note Ocean’s versatility of being more than just another R&B artist, i ultimately digress. Where channel ORANGE makes it’s lasting mark, is on the back to back to back tracks, Crack Rock’ to ‘Pyramids’ to ‘Lost.’ One of the best three song streaks i’ve ever heard on an album.

‘Crack Rock’  starts off with a beat that creeps and makes you move the second it drops:

Ocean’s beautiful voice straddling the line between baritone and tenor guides us through a desolate tale of addiction and the subliminal question of what the “fix” is.

The album climaxes on ‘Pyramids’ where Ocean starts by giving us a history lesson of Egyptian proportions. Painting the picture of his “Cleopatra” who is the subject of this song:

Much like the Queen, Ocean’s Cleopatra is tragic and her beauty is corrupt.

“What good is a jewel that ain’t still precious?”

She’s taken a turn and fallen into the trap of the pyramids…and Ocean takes us through the mystique of these pyramids, personifying them as the palace of sin and she is trapped inside. Lyrically, this dude is amazing. He confidently articulates his disdain for this beautiful woman and what she’s become, a stripper….But she still gets to him and still rattles his cage…And he’s helpless against the sexual siren…

Finally, ‘Lost’ completes the trifecta and Ocean sings about how fleeting love is within the movement of the lives of its moving parts, people. Truly my favorite song on this record and this absolutely stunning video of ‘Lost’ played over a montage of Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited will blow your mind:

“Got on my buttercream… silk shirt and it’s Versace”

For real? That’s the moneyest line i’ve ever heard. Makes me wanna go buy designer clothes, just to feel the high-end slik.

As if he couldn’t be money enough, he employs Outkast’s Andre 3000 for ‘Pink Matter,’ and i love Big Boi too, but damnit if Andre isn’t the pimpest dude in that duo. John Mayer makes appearances as a guitarist (say what you will about his singing, dude destroys the guitar.) There are so many other epic moments on this album that i’ve glossed over too. It’s a complete work that you gotta hear.

Ocean’s conceptual everyman audience hit a peak the day before channel ORANGE came out…when he made a stunning announcement in an open letter on his tumblr page (beautifully captured in this piece by the SF Bay Guardian’s Daniel Alvarez). It was the biggest leap of faith one could take in hip-hop/R&B… genres shrouded in misogyny and alpha-males. It crumbled a wall, called out the fabric of humanity and what we’re willing to accept.

This is an album that is highly respectful to modern themes and issues. He doesn’t neglect taboos and presents himself to be a real human being. Gay, straight, black, white, whatever….we all find ourselves and our instincts in the moments of carnal passions and impulses inspired by and within this album. This is the album that one day, many of our children will be conceived to…

Groundbreaking, provocative, powerful, daring, passionate, compassionate and a part of us. This makes up my #1 Album of 2012. An album that hopefully allows people to embrace who we are, who we want to be, who we want to be with, express ourselves and act on our most basic instincts. One love.

#1 Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

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