Tag Archives: Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean/Himanshu

They do mix tapes, they do albums, they do it all. Ocean’s album isn’t necessarily better than his mix tape, while Himanshu’s mix tape definitely isn’t better than his group’s album, or their other mix tapes. It’s still nice to have guys this smart who are also this prolific. Case in point: in the time it took me to review his first mix tape of 2012, Himanshu released a second. I shudder to think what kind of grade he’d give me.

imagesFrank Ocean: Channel Orange
It speaks to the expectations Ocean raised with his 2011 mix tape that this official debut LP feels both wondrous and underwhelming. Shouldn’t it have been more wondrous? Alas, Channel Orange is not the masterpiece we all hoped for; it is merely an outstanding set of songs—Ocean’s second in under two years. This one takes a broad view of Ocean’s adopted hometown of Los Angeles, where the “Super Rich Kids” sound every bit as lost as the guy hooked on “Crack Rock,” that being the only substance here more damaging than money or unrequited love. It’s worth remembering that, before he was flying private with Jay and Ye, Ocean was both a Katrina refugee and a victim of major label mismanagement. His biography was difficult and rich long before he started discussing his sexuality, and he’s got the kind of empathy a rich and difficult biography only deepens. Yet he doesn’t identify with the hard-luck cases he sings about any more than he judges them. As is befitting a Capital-A Artist whose writing and singing are most thrilling for their restraint, he simply lets them be. Because Ocean has yet to master the art of sequencing (what’s that weird thing about fertilizer doing at track three?), the album’s highlights arrive in the middle. Highest of all is “Pyramids,” a five-minute fever dream about a woman named Cleopatra that gives way to another five minutes of the dreamer’s waking life. Turns out he’s a hustler who’s “still unemployed,” and whose beloved Cleo works (probably doing more than just dancing) at a club called The Pyramid. That one throws every musical idea Ocean can fit into ten minutes at you, making all of them work, and leaving you awed, exhausted, and wondering if anyone—hard-luck or otherwise—ever beats their odds. A-

NEHRU-JACKETS-COVERHimanshu: Nehru Jackets
Even bullshitting, Himanshu (you know him as Das Racist MVP Heems) is the kind of guy you want to spend 70 minutes with. That’s partly because he’s a great bullshitter, but more because he’s such a demonstrable sweetheart. Highlights from this rambling mix tape include songs in which he samples PJ Harvey and Kate Bush, two of the women, we can presume, he means to honor in “Womyn,” an ode to the fairer sex as goofy as it is heartfelt. Also on his roving mind: the entire oeuvre of Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, Jason Bourne’s origin story, and what ever happened to Elian Gonzalez. In other words, it’s a true mix tape: freewheeling and far from succinct. There are lots of ideas for their own sake, lots of guest spots from lesser lights; Childish Gambino—you know him as Troy from “Community”—sounds like a TV star just rich and famous enough to get people to let him rap, and I wish Heems wasn’t one of those people. But when Heems’ light shines, it shines bright. As an artist who loves giving his music away for free as much as he loves the things money can buy, he has complicated ideas about wealth. As a lifelong New Yorker, his takedown of his local police force would feel unjustly simplistic were it not for the six unassailable words on which he pins it: “You never made me feel safer.” Doesn’t get much more succinct than that. B+

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The Best Albums of 2011

I’m naming 12 albums to my best-of list because there are 12 months in a year, and so it feels like a less arbitrary number than 10, even if it is also less round. Plus, where good music is concerned, more is always more. If you put Wilco at the top of your ballot, you forgo any chance of seeming fashionable (especially if you put them ahead of Frank Ocean and Tune-Yards), but if you’re going to engage in any activity as subjective as ranking the albums released in a given year, listing them in rough order of how much solace you’ve taken in them is the only honest rubric. If you haven’t heard any of these records, I feel qualified in saying that there is one sort of solace or another to be found in each of them.

Happy New Year, everybody.

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Frank Ocean/Tyler, the Creator

Divisive LA crew Odd Future has been the rap story of the year; even New Yorker subscribers not necessarily known for their horror-core affinity have heard a thing or two about them. I’m in the camp that contends their glib shock-rap—especially that of leader Tyler, The Creator—goes absolutely nowhere. The exception is singer-in-residence Frank Ocean, whose voice will be familiar to anyone who’s heard Watch the Throne, and whose brainy brand of R&B is by far the greatest thing Odd Future hath wrought.

Frank Ocean: Nostalgia, Ultra
What this guy understands that his Odd Future cronies don’t is that real candor is more exciting than any blatant attempt to shock. It’s usually more shocking, too. “They say you can’t miss something you ain’t had/Well I can/I’m sad,” he says of the father he never knew and the grandfather he met once. If those words look flat on your screen, trust that they’ve got plenty of dimension when Ocean sings them. They’re also awfully soft for a guy whose key affiliation is with a gang of rape-and-pillagers. Other highlights on this debut mix tape include Ocean’s improvement of Coldplay and Eagles songs you’ll recognize, one about a lost weekend with a future dentist/current porn star that Ocean likens more to Novocaine than ecstasy, and another detailing his frustrations with the girls who turn off his copy of Kid A (“What is a Radiohead, anyway?”) in favor of Drake and Trey Songz, both of whose “songs for women,”Ocean is chagrinned to discover, said women prefer to his own. If all the above doesn’t make you want to know Ocean a little better, you’re aware of more innovative modern R&B than I am. He’s such a breath of fresh air that you wish he didn’t under-stay his welcome. Things end abruptly with his fantastic reworking of MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” effectively reminding us that this is a mix tape, not an album. Other artists have blurred that distinction. Ocean nearly obliterates it. A-
The problem isn’t—as many have asserted—that this 20-year-old Odd Future ringleader is socially irresponsible; it’s that he’s boring. Tyler rapes and stabs his way through a coma-inducing 15 songs in 75minutes, the scope of his vision summarized thus: “kill people, burn shit, fuck school.” Forgive me if I like my rebel yells just a little more interesting than that. His “Random Disclaimer,” along with his introductory declaration that he is not a role model, along with pretty much everything he does, clearly evokes early Eminem, but this is closer in spirit to Relapse than The Marshall Mathers LP. Speaking of that one, wasn’t the whole point of Slim Shady raping his own mother even though they gave him the Rolling Stone cover—a near rhyme funnier and more shocking than anything here—to render moot the dull gross-out fantasies of dweebs like this? “Her,” in which Tyler discovers that even goblins can get stuck in the friend zone, comes as a relief not so much because it gives the goblin himself some depth, but because he leaves the ‘her’ in question unmolested for a change. “I’m fuckin’ radical! I’m motherfuckin’ radical!” he shouts at us, as if shouting alone made it so. C
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