Monday, March 14, 2011

12: Album Review: Frank Ocean-"Nostalgia/Ultra"

     Alright. If you follow Odd Future, chances are you've been exposed to this. And why wouldn't you be following Odd Future? However, if you don't, you should, and if you do, and haven't, read on. But be advised, Frank Ocean is nothing like what you may have come to expect from the Wolf Gang. Frank Ocean's smooth. 

Sup, shugga.

     This being a mixtape, a good bit of the tracks are cut from other artists, which is bad news for them. Mainly because Frank has a nasty habit of enhancing every instrumental he takes on, irrevocably shifting your favor to his version over the original. By the time you digest this album, you won't be able to listen to "Electric Feel" or "Hotel California" ever again without thinking, "This just makes me wish I was listening to Frank Ocean's take instead." This is an R&B album. Well, that's the broadest genre Nostalgia/Ultra could be pigeonholed into. If you dig Maxwell, or Erykah Badu, Frank Ocean's your new best friend. 

1. Street Fighter
     This must be the "nostalgia" part of the tape. Scattered throughout this thing, there are four "interludes" that feature Frank popping cassettes into tape decks, rewinding them, popping them back out, all that. Well known sounds. You instinctively know what it is. All the tracks are named after nostalgic videogames. Except for Bitches Talkin'. That one's named after bitches talking. 
Memorable lines:
2. Strawberry Swing
     Ripping from Coldplay's "Strawberry Swing", Frank does this song far greater justice than Chris Martin could ever be capable of. A bleak, desperately romantic picture is painted. It's like "The Dead Flag Blues" meets a love/pop song. A great combination, as it turns out.

Memorable lines:
"Say hello, then say farewell to the places you know
We're all mortals, aren't we? Any moment this could go" 
3. Novacane 
     I don't where this beat comes from. I hope it's self-produced, because that would heighten my already lofty opinion of Odd Future's production skills. At Coachella, Frank meets a porn star who's an aspiring dentist and they smoke. He reflects on his stunted emotions, with the "novacane" acting as a metaphor; as even the fliest girls he's pleasuring can't break through his dissociated numbness. The most emotion he can muster up is a simple "yikes" at the prospect of having cocaine for breakfast. And he relays this vividly, all whilst sounding like the coolest guy you've ever heard. I can't stress how sick the beat is. 
Memorable lines: 
"I think I started somethin', I got what I wanted
Did-didn't I- can't feel nothin', superhuman
Even when I'm fuckin', Viagra poppin', every single record Auto-Tunin'
Zero emotion, muted emotion, pitch corrected, computed emotion" 
4. We All Try
     Up to now, the lyricism has been solid, but Frank takes it to the next level with We All Try. He speaks on his optimistic ideologies and spurns those who promote apathy and cynicism. The juice he puts on "I don't believe my hands are cleanly" gives me the heebie-jeebies. 
Memorable lines: 
"I believe a woman's temple
Gives her right to choose, but baby don't abort
I believe that marriage isn't
Between a man and woman, but between love and love
And I believe you, when you say that you've lost all faith" 
5. Bitches Talkin' 
You go girl. 

Memorable lines:
"What's a Radiohead?" 
6. Songs for Women 
     I once read something written by someone who was of the opinion that men are inherently more romantic than women, or are at least more expressive about their feelings, and that this is often overlooked due to various male stereotypes. Maybe there's some validity to that. I don't know. But the author's primary justification for this claim was the evidence of all written love songs, the majority of which seem to be devoted towards women. Frank seems to be savvy to this theory, as in this track he expresses frustration over his attempts to appeal to women through the power of song, which eventually result in their lack of appreciation for his sincerity and his efforts. The instrumental sounds like something Bill Withers might lay down. Which is good. Real good.  
Memorable lines: 
"She used to stop by, come and holla at me
Put her purse down, and try to battle rap me
She don't do that no more, no more, no more
Don't even listen to the songs I record
But she be bangin' that Drake in my car" 
Except for the Drake bit, this girl sounds amazing. I want a battle rapping lady.

Too much denim. 
Are her breasts ever "down"?
Shit no.
Mhm. "I burn my bridges with a blowtorch." That'll do.

7. Lovecrimes 
     Welcome to one of the greatest piano loops of all time. Yeah, equal to the somber "Beautiful Mind", or Nina Simone's complex key tickling in "Get By", or the childlike simplicity of "Shimmy Shimmy Ya". This is an important beat, because, like those aforementioned jams, it perfectly matches its song's mood. A forbidden love, which sounds ultimately doomed, as near the track's end a scathing bite from Eyes Wide Shut comes in. It leaves the impression that Frank is coming to terms with his wonton womanizing, trying to justify his actions and lust. That beat. With that hook. Cooyah.
Memorable lines:
"Talk to me baby, and I better not hear a word
Do me baby, I better not feel it girl"
8. Goldeneye
     Another "interlude". Tape pops. Same business. However, I like the initial slotting in of the cassette. It sounds extra crunchy. Rumor has it that this track was actually the most difficult to record on Nostalgia/Ultra, for reasons unknown.

Take 7: "Goddammit, the cassette turned into Bruno Mars again." 
9. There Will Be Tears 
     Sporting the framework of Mr. Hudson's "There Will Be Tears", Frank touches on the Odd Future motif of growing up with an absent father. Or without an absent father, that is. Or just without a father.

The opposite of this.
However, the ardent bile that Tyler, The Creator spits on his father's memory is not present here, nor does Frank lace his lyrics with the accompanying cavalier attitude. Unlike Tyler, Frank holds no pretense of not being disturbed by his lack of a father figure (for even his grandfather only filled that role temporarily), which isn't as cryptic and open to interpretation as Tyler's facade, but comes off more tender and relatable.
Memorable lines:
"Hide my face, hide my face, can't let 'em see me crying
'cause these boys didn't have no fathers neither
And they weren't crying, my friend said it wasn't so bad
You can't miss what you ain't had, well I can, I'm sad"
10. Swim Good
     The beat is banging. The harmonies. The organ. The chorus is a gem. The imagery is effective. I especially enjoy his metaphor of having the broken hearts "bleeding" through his trunk, which I believe is referencing his and other's love songs, the history behind them, and how he booms them in the whip.
Memorable lines:
I know the whole "drive into the ocean" thing is overplayed, but Frank Ocean's (ha!) take on it feels of greater import.
"I'm about to drive in the ocean
I'ma try to swim from something bigger than me"
11. Dust
    Compared to it's surrounding tracks, Dust is a little underwhelming. It's not bad, by any means, and has a nice message along with a silky delivery. I just feel like it could be more. At 1:15, this pad comes in that I really wish was fleshed out, because it sounds great and unfortunately, kind of peters out. This one verse is super, though.
Memorable lines:
"'cause what would this place be without my muse
Nothing special, every book in here, I wrote
Some I'm not too proud of, some I wish I could burn
So many pages I wrote, wish I could revise them"
12. American Wedding
     Sampling "Hotel California" by The Eagles, Frank has taken a song that, for me, has long been rendered unlistenable, and he's breathed fresh air into it. A rueful commentary on the fickle nature of marriage in America, this is Frank Ocean getting "conscious"! Just like Nelly on "Dilemma".

What's siller, the Band-Aid thing-
-the teardrop thing-
-or the triple scoop ice cream cone erupting red lightening thing?

     Your awareness of the all-too-familiar strummings from "Hotel California" tends to fade as you realize the backbeat is totally working it, and The Eagles would have been 100% more tolerable if they'd hired a DJ.

Memorable lines: 
"I took a walk with the palm trees as the daylight fell
Sangria in a canteen, talking to myself
This tattoo on my left hand is turning purple-ish blue
Daydreams of the romance, daydreams of you" 
13. Soul Calibur 
     Nothing to report. Same as all the other interludes.
14. Nature Feels 
     Alright, this might be my favorite song on this album. As a whole package, that is. Because although I enjoyed the original tune by MGMT, for it was funky as shit, I felt "Electric Feel" was lacking lyrically. So, Frank takes this fantastic instrumental, and squeezes an infinitely superior song out of it. His muttering of "I've been meaning to fuck you in the garden" is so creepily licentious you'll get goosebumps, and the chorus of "tell me how my nature feels" just fits. This is primordial, animalistic lovemaking music. If you're male, when listening to this track, have the foresight to wear some tight, binding briefs in order to restrain the massive erection you'll instinctually acquire. And if you're female, just sit on a bunch of cotton balls to minimize any staining.
Memorable lines:
"Feelin' like Adam when he first found out this existed
Me and my Eve trying out our first positions
And it's all good, and it's all free, and it's all you, and it's only me
Playing in the dirt, wrestling myself inside of you"
Worth the time?
     Goddammit. Right when my interest in Odd Future was waning, they go and put out something like this. I had them pegged, bookmarked, and slid to the side for future filing. Then Frank Ocean showed up and initiated a second puberty in me. There really isn't a weak track on this album. Be warned, this is a sexy, sexy album for sexy, sexy people, and should be downloaded (for free, so no excuses) immediately with mad, redundant click-clackings of your mouse right here.

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