Few albums recently have generated as much excitement as the latest from Christopher Breaux. The 24 year-old – who records as Frank Ocean and is a member of highly provocative LA hip hop crew Odd Future – dropped his mixtape, ‘Nostalgia, Ultra’ free online early last year, to foamingly enthusiastic response. It’s no surprise, then, that his ‘official’ debut has everybody so pumped. The anticipation around the July 16 release was upped this morning, when Ocean revealed his sexuality on his Tumblr, in a strikingly honest and poignant post. He was likely to have been driven to make some kind of a statement soon, not because of rumour and speculation (there’s really been none), but because of the gender-specific nature of some of the songs’ lyrics.
We heard ‘Channel Orange’ at a listening session for UK press on Monday. Hype and personal revelation aside, it’s an extraordinary record – forward-thinking, imaginative and properly fresh – that puts most commercial R&B-pop/hip hop in the shade in terms of inventiveness, despite being stuffed full of funk-pop hooks and packing a potential four chart-topping singles. It sets Prince-, Stevie Wonder- and Michael Jackson-styled melodies in soundbeds that recall Kanye, Jay-Z and Flying Lotus, but which streak past them in the post-modernism race, while Ocean’s lyrical concerns range from troubled love to the dark side of teen hedonism and (so it seems) abortion. In between the tracks there are blasts of white noise and chaotic channel-surfing. It’s an ambitious, sophisticated and complex tour de force, but also utterly accessible and immediate.
For a taster of ‘Channel Orange’, check out bonkers epic centrepiece ‘Pyramids’.