Frank hosts a 'Channel Orange' listening party in NYC
At the Brill Building in midtown Manhattan last night, Frank Ocean hosted a listening party for his forthcoming debut Channel Orange. In attendance was a group of journalists some from Pitchfork, The Fader, Complex, and more.
From their reports of the event, we can start to gather an idea of what the record might sound like, even if we haven't heard it yet ourselves.
From Ryan Dombal at Pitchfork:
While the Brill Building is mere blocks away from Def Jam's offices in midtown Manhattan, I like to think the location of yesterday's listening session for Frank Ocean's major-label debut-- Channel Orange, out July 17-- was based on more than mere convenience.
Countless American classics were born in the building's hallowed halls. So when a group of journalists sat down in a small, dimmed studio to take in the album, there was already a sense of history in the air.
Frank was there, his back turned to us, slowly bobbing his head along to the music. Before he played the record, he tested the sound system with a few seconds of Arthur Russell's "Just a Blip". He didn't speak much. Holding an apparently specialized drink made for the occasion, he deadpanned: "They said this drink is called Channel Orange... that's cool." While he's appreciative, it seemed that such party-planner details don't mean very much to him.
Much like last year's Nostalgia, Ultra, the lushly produced songs on Channel Orange are connected by tape-damaged interludes of dialogue and sound effects and warped snippets of tracks, giving things an intimate, homemade scope and feel. The record begins with an upgraded version of "Thinking About You" (now with gorgeous strings), and also features previously-heard tracks "Forrest Gump", "Pyramids", and "Super Rich Kids". A distorted version of the Tumblr-leaked track "Voodoo" could be heard underneath the album's outro.
Elsewhere, Ocean offers left turn after left turn, from psychedelic soul a la Sly Stone, to D'Angelo-style, keyboard-based R&B, to a politically-charged track delivered over a nimble beat reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest, to something akin to a spaced-out epic rock ballad in which a conversation with a cabbie inspires Ocean to ponder some of life's big questions.
Needless to say, this is not your typical major-label R&B record. So when Andre 3000 showed up to offer some guest rapping and singing near the end of the album, it made a hell of a lot of sense.
Sam Hockley-Smith at The Fader writes :
The reason Frank Ocean is so interesting is not that he's a great singer (he is) or that he is audacious enough to pen 10+ minute songs (he does), or that he uses his voice less as a virtuosic display of his singing ability, but more as a vehicle for his songs. Frank Ocean is especially interesting because of how he exists outside the general conventions of the music industry. For Channel Orange, his second release, but first official album, the first single, "Pyramids" is almost 10 minutes long and contains multiple movements—going from a big room rave to a more intimate push of sparse bass. His voice is high, beautifully thin, and so casual that most of his songs feel like a conversation. Last night we heard all of Channel Orange, which includes the already released "Pyramids" as its centerpiece. It's a quietly ambitious record that features Ocean switching narrative points of view over lush, tasteful beats. Andre 3000 is still playing with the same flow he used on Drake's "The Real Her," but it's a welcome inclusion. Mostly though, the record is all Ocean—experimenting with lyrical perspective, experimenting with the flexibility of his voice, singing from the point of view of a spoiled rich kid, or as himself, or any number of other characters. The album feels organic, but not retro—a musical leap forward for both Ocean and the genre. It's the sort of album that's very much worth looking to as a blueprint for left-of-center artistic ambition, a way to grow without devolving into weirdness for weirdness' sake.
Brad Wete for Complex:
Frank Ocean doesn't do things in the conventional way. Really, it’s a bit of a surprise that the self-made R&B star even held a listening session for his new album in a New York City recording studio yesterday.
Ocean's original plan was just to put out his debut album, Channel Orange, on July 17 without media hype or fanfare—seemingly out of the blue. It's a cool idea—one that worked for his mixtape, Nostalgia, ULTRA—but now that he's signed to Def Jam the stakes are a bit higher this time around. So there he was Thursday afternoon in a red shirt, jeans, and black Vans, shaking hands with journalists who were eager for an Orange listen.
A man of few words, Ocean simply popped open his laptop and said “This is Channel Orange.” He gave no track names or production notes (for the purpose of this preview, we went with educated guesses). Nor did he explain so much as a single lyric. The album interludes sound like TV commercials, so that may explain the "channel" part of the title; as for "orange," maybe it's his favorite color or something.
Nope, Ocean didn't say much at all; just hunched over the studio console and let the rhythms hit 'em. Here’s what Complex thought of them.
"Thinking About You"
This joint's been floating around the Internet for months. First it was an Ocean-penned track for Roc Nation singer Bridget Kelly, which she did justice to. Then Frank posted his own version of the song on his Tumblr page. No contest—this cut about not being able to keep that special someone off your mind sounds better in his falsetto.
This spacy cut, named for the diamond-rich but war-torn African nation, is highlighted by its wild use of organs and tremendous melodies.
On this jazzy song Frank sings about enjoying what's in front of you, as opposed to thinking about what's beyond. “Why see the world when you've got the beach,” he asks, then adds “MY TV ain't HD. That's too real.”
This song might also be titled “Real Love” or “Super Rich,” but whatever you call it, it knocks. Over piano jabs that recall Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets," Frank speaks on affluent kids living the high life without their parents' love. “Too many joyrides in Daddy's Jaguar,” he sings on the hook. “Too many white lies and white lines." Odd Future teammate Earl Sweatshirt features on this cut, which sounds like a hit.
Here's an eerie song where Frank sings to a woman, most likely a pilot, who's not flying right. “Why am I trying to keep a grown woman sober,” he asks, then admits “I've always had a pilot jones.”
This 10-minute offering is Frank's first Channel Orange single. It's an epic song, starting out as the tale of a queen being stolen from her land and then transforming into a cut that's fit for a raunchy gentlemen's club. By the way, that's John Mayer on the guitar at the end.
This song would have been perfectly suited for any scene in Jungle Fever featuring Samuel L. Jackson's crackhead character Gator. Over hard drums and organs, Frank sings about “smoking stones in abandoned homes” and fiends “shucking and jiving” for drugs.
This one's all about a girl who lost her way after traveling to a place where she thought her dream would come true. Apparently Frank isn't exactly helping her find her way. “I can't believe I got her out here cooking dope,” he sings.
On this funky cut Frank sings about an Indian woman who's following the Dalai Lama. Frank's with her in the wild and things get real in the field. “Tigers woke us from our slumber,” he sings. Hello kitty!
This piano and string-driven song find Ocean unloading his troubles from the backseat of a cab. “Taxi driver, you're my shrink for the hour,” he starts. As the meter runs, his issues spill out. “I've got three lives balanced on my head like steak knives,” Ocean spits. Sounds painful.
"Sky and Stars"
Ocean sounds pensive here, singing, “What if the sky and stars are for show?” Andre 3000 features on this track. “She had a body that would intimidate anyone that wasn't Southern,” he says of a particularly stacked lady in his Georgia drawl. “Not me, cousin.”
The last cut on the album is just a few guitar licks shy of a country song. Ocean sings about a woman who's been running through his mind. The outro that really wraps the albums is where we hear Frank leaving his car and splashing through the rain to his home. Once he unlocks the door to the crib and closes it behind him, Channel Orange is blacked out.
Natelege Whatley at The Boombox:
Singer Frank Ocean previewed tracks off his highly-anticipated debut album, Channel Orange, Thursday (June 21) at KMA Studios, tucked above the forever bustling streets of Times Square in New York City.
The 24-year-old's fans will be excited to know the album has a feature from Andre 3000 on a song titled "Pink Matter."
With Channel Orange, due July 17, the Odd Future crooner delivers more than just a solid record; he's a storytelling genius on the LP, a quality that has been missing from many new artists. The tracks are pulled together by experimental interludes including video game sound effects, dialogues and planes taking off and crashing.
The album borrows from a mixture of genres, with elements of jazz, rock and electro sprinkled throughout the R&B-centric songs. There's also ranges in tempo, incorporating a sometimes heavy and cold feel but at other times a warming effect. Ocean's voice smoothly crusades along the tracks into a deep, soulful fantasy world, conjured up from his own wondering mind.
Once inside this sphere, Ocean takes on topics of love, alienation, drug use, religion and philosophy, similar to his Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape, released in February 2011. But this time, he adds bang and boost to the sounds with live instrumentation that accompany his lyrics. Ocean's words are full of vivid imagery, which also serve as a mirror to reflect society's beauty and flaws.
On "Super Rich Kids," led in by a piano, he highlights absentee parents who allow money to raise their children. "The maids come around too much/ Parents never come around often enough," the New Orleans native sings.
Throughout the album, Frank Ocean gives a view of conflict and sorrow, never concealing his own vulnerability in not knowing all the answers to his problems.
During the Andre 3000-assisted, down-tempo track "Pink Matter," he ponders, "What if the stars and skies are a show/ And the aliens are watching live?"
It's this visual irony that allows Ocean to create songwriting that transforms listeners' encounters with drab daily news, reality and heartbreak into audible refreshments.
"Thinking About You," the 10-minute long "Pyramids," "Forrest Gump" and "Voodoo," all tracks either previously released or those he previewed for fans while on tour, will also be on the album. However, there are many more unreleased goods that round out the impressible opus.