Universal Music, Audio CD: Rs 395
Frank Ocean's debut album has been released this year to explosive success, consequently drawing a whole lot of attention to the singer-songwriter. The Guardian even called him the “most talked-about man in music” soon after his album released.
It turns out all that positive attention is actually warranted. Channel: Orange is a good answer to the cynical listener who thinks there's little new music worth listening to in the large body of contemporary soul or rhythm-and-blues. Frank Ocean, whose birth name is Christopher Breaux, has previously worked as a ghostwriter for pop stars including Justin Bieber and John Legend. Thankfully, there is little of the homogenous, over-familiar pop come to be associated at times with these acts.
One way of describing Channel: Orange is as familiar R&B, with liberal doses of strangeness and psychedelia. In parts ambient electronica, at times electro-funk, it’s laced with Ocean's smooth, mellow vocals.
But what makes Channel: Orange remarkable is that it is consistently populated with both interesting riffs and interesting words. There’s an uneven, changing beat through most songs; there’s commentary happening throughout, and singular characters as well (see: ‘Monks’). This is pleasant enough to be background music, but it has curiously attention-drawing lyrics and music.
You get the feeling that this isn’t some languid background music for the lazy listener; also, that it is more storytelling-through-sound than just a mashup of familiar riffs. A particularly good example of this is ‘Sweet Life’, with its easy-listening electric piano notes and mellow bass. You soon realise he is making sarcastic comments about the Beverly Hills lifestyle: people who have had landscapers and housekeepers since they were born. It’s enough to make you sit up in surprise, if nothing else. The album is also filled with experimental interludes, with dialogue, sound effects – cars zooming, USB cables connecting, walking – and unexpected breaks in songs. We highly recommend, that if you do end up buying the CD, you reach for the liner filled with lyrics to read along.
Modern R&B, if you can sound this busy and interesting, even the unconverted among us might be all ears.