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Feature Fridays Channel Orange by Frank Ocean

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Album artwork from Frank Ocean album Channel Orange. Text on a plain background with the words channel orange

Welcome to Feature Fridays! Each week, AU music library staff highlights a CD or artist from our collection. This week, Student Assistant Elisabeth McCarren reviews Channel Orange by Frank Ocean.

Since his entry into the hip-hop consciousness through Odd Future in 2010, Frank Ocean quickly emerged as one of the most acclaimed musicians of his generation. Ocean’s studio debut Channel Orange was released in 2012 and has become one of the most popular and beloved albums of this decade. After ranking Channel Orange #10 of the 2010s, Pitchfork’s Jordan Sargent wrote that Ocean “became a trailblazer for artists’ autonomy and their freedom to express their sexuality,” as Ocean had posted an open letter to blogging website Tumblr coming out as queer prior to the release of the album. Sargent also referred to the open letter and accompanying album as a “major cultural moment.”

Channel Orange explores a number of themes, including class, race, love and loss through Frank's unique mix of genres. His rhythms are open and flowing, making many of the songs feel like a structured stream of consciousness vent session. Ocean’s falsetto singing voice is also featured throughout the album, serving as one of the only constants in the album’s somewhat chaotic narrative arcs. Several pre-recorded sounds, such as radio channel surfing, slammed doors, and speech in a number of non-English languages are also featured within the spatial instrumentation of the album.

Allegories about Ocean’s own experiences with (often unrequited) love form the backbone of the album. Earlier songs in the album mostly deal with the decadence of the feeling of being in love. Those eventually give way to songs about financial and drug-induced luxury, such as “Super Rich Kids,” before moving onto the darker side of the “Sweet Life,” in songs like “Crack Rock.” The album ends with Ocean expressing feelings of loneliness - that no one truly sees him for who he is - feelings he sought to remedy by releasing the aforementioned open letter.

The range of genre influence alone makes Channel Orange compelling, but Ocean’s narrative arcs truly tie together the album together. This is critically and musically one of the best albums of the decade, as well as an all-time favorite of mine.

Channel Orange is new to the Music Library’s collection. Check out other new items on the New Stuff shelf in the Music Library or by visiting our New Items Feed.