nostalgia,ULTRA. – Frank Ocean (February 2011)

Frank Ocean is a member of a hip hop collective known as Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA), which features, among others, Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt.  The group possess considerable but unreliable talent, with perhaps their most interesting aspect being how little of a fuck they give, even (or maybe especially) when it comes to their own art, sometimes even resulting in homophobia and sexism in their lyrics that would make the Eminem of ten years ago a little uncomfortable.  Relative to the rest of OFWGKTA, resident R&B artist Frank Ocean is an anomaly.  His brilliance is sustained, and early on nostalgia,ULTRA., he distances himself from the homophobia of his peers: “I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and woman, but between love and love.”  Later in the same song, he states, “I don’t believe our nation’s flag is on the moon.”  He manages to make it come off as whimsical instead of crazy.

Each song on nostalgia,ULTRA. is wonderful, but what really astounds is that every song wildly succeeds on a different plane.  Before the longing and whimsy of “We All Try,” “Novacane,” a surprise radio hit, hits with all of the swagger and humor of a good hip hop song, but Frank keeps things innocent enough to react to cocaine for breakfast with a quick “yikes!” My favorite on the album is “Songs for Women,” in which Frank’s friends give him shit for making music for the sole purpose of winning hearts. “No fair, no fair! That’s cheating!” they say, but in reality the chicks Frank wants are blasting Frank’s R&B peers: “Don’t even listen to the songs I record/But she be banging that Drake in my car/I’m So Far Gone/She stay blasting Trey and his Songz/All damn day long/It’s like she never heard of me.”  Songs that seem slight at first, like the nervous romantic thoughts and bouncing piano of “Lovecrimes” or the discovery of the futility of writing about a muse in “Dust,” turn into highlights that add dimension to the surrounding songs.

 

Frank uses Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” as the backing track for his song of the same name to evoke the yearning for the past that the lyrics suggest.  He uses MGMT’s “Electric Feel” for his sex-as-religion “Nature Feels.”  Radiohead’s “Optimistic” plays over a skit that demonstrates just how little Frank’s lady friends care about his music to prelude “Songs for Women” (“what is a Radiohead?”).  Thanks to Don Henley’s assholishness and copyright law, Frank’s tragic tale of young, hurried marriage, “American Wedding,” which features the backing track of The Eagles’ “Hotel California” (with the guitar solo entirely intact), nostalgia,ULTRA. has not been released in any form.

Google around and download this album, because Frank Ocean wants you to hear it. The pictures that Frank Ocean paints with his music are breathtakingly vivid, and his love of music drips off the canvas from the backdrops that he chooses, especially when he steals said backdrops from established musicians and unfailingly puts them to better use. Frank Ocean is a dreamer. Frank Ocean is a lover. Frank Ocean is a player (and so was his granddaddy). Each song is executed to maximum effect, succeeding so greatly and from so many different angles. There is no doubt in my mind that Frank Ocean’s unreleased nostalgia,ULTRA. mixtape is the best album of the year.

A+

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Published in: on September 23, 2011 at 3:48 PM  Leave a Comment  

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