Review Summary: A vibrant, vivid, and above all, enjoyable experience.
It's been a few months since the pretty-good-but-not-great Odd Future Tape, Vol. 2
hit the shelves, and earned the group some attention again with the surprising success of Rella (and, to lesser extents, Oldie and Ned Flander). That album allowed just about every member of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All to show off their chops, be it lyrically, vocally, or production-wise. It also allows them, having introduced themselves to the world in a grandiose fashion, to begin work on various in-group collaborations and solo albums, thanks to the publicity they've received. Although the comparisons are unwelcome when it comes to style or sound, they are similar to the Wu-Tang Clan in this sense - using the group's rising fame to further their solo projects and get the word out there. It's an interesting tactic, and one that will probably prove successful.
The first to ship out their solo effort is Frank Ocean, OFWGKTA's resident crooner. His mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA
was extremely well-received by most critics, and as such it attracted attention from Def Jam. It featured soulful beats and lyrics, through which Ocean seemed to pour his heart out in an honest, enjoyable, and commercially viable set of fourteen songs. Those who enjoyed that work will certainly be pleased with channel ORANGE
. His debut studio album features the best aspects of its predecessor (minus any beats that may attract the wrath of '70s rock bands), and the songs all flow together into a brilliant album.
Musically, it's very tight. ORANGE
features plenty of different instruments and sounds - guitars, keyboard, bass, drums, organs, video game bloops and bleeps. It all fits together in an extremely vibrant manner. Funky bass pervades the Pharrell-produced "Sweet Life", with some pleasant organ going on as it does so. The 9-minute long "Pyramids" jumps from sound to sound, going from electronic drops to electric guitar, flowing into a sonic adventure of sorts. At the other end of the spectrum, the minute long instrumental "White" (not to be confused with the OF Tape 2 song of the same name) features some slick guitar work from John Mayer, of all people. Between songs, there are frequently segue tracks, incorporating spoken words, video game music, vocal distortion, Beatles-esque organ. In fact, the album's production and musical direction calls to mind Magical Mystery Tour/White Album-era Beatles. It's crisp, lush, and colorful.
Lyrically and vocally, Ocean is on point. While it's generally melancholy stuff, none of it is nauseating or off-putting. It all feels honest, emotional, and confessional. He's excellent with imagery, calling to mind vivid and nostalgic images and smells, and is clever and witty as well (ex: "The best song wasn't the single, but you weren't either" and "The water's blue, take the pill" - "Sweet Life"). His lyrics are the most accessible of the Odd Future crew as well, which you can take as you like. Earl Sweatshirt and Andre 3000 also make appearances on the album, the former dropping a well-written verse in a hazy, lazy flow, and the latter playing guitar and doing his super-fast thing. Ocean's voice is interesting, though, in that it in itself is something of an instrument, fusing with the music as opposed to laying over it.
Overall, channel ORANGE
is an excellent debut album, and Ocean and his cohorts on the album have crafted an interesting, fun, and diverse sonic experience that should keep people listening for quite some time.