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July 13, 2012 | 4:19 p.m. CST
Fourteen months ago Lonnie Breaux, a 23-year-old New Orleans native, released an unannounced genre-bending mixtape under the moniker Frank Ocean. That collective work was titled Nostalgia, Ultra, and it played so naturally listeners could feel his melodies — nestled somewhere between R&B, soul and pop — take them to the sweet life filled with Coachella performances and long joy rides around Orange County.
Fast forward to this past Tuesday and Frank Ocean digitally released his debut studio album, Channel Orange a full week before its anticipated release date. The diffident Ocean has never been one for the spotlight; his debut album doesn’t even include his name on the front cover. But some people just can’t help shining a spotlight. Last week rumors spread of Ocean lustfully using the male pronoun in some of his songs. The soulful singer took to his Tumblr to clear the air. He admitted to falling deeply in love with a man five years ago.
What can one expect from a bisexual R&B singer who belongs to the crude, homosexual-slandering, hip-hop collective Odd Future? A hell of a good debut album. Ocean opens this Southern California sonic adventure with an interlude filled with Sony PlayStation sound bytes that beckon back to Nostalgia, Ultra. What follows is song after song of wistful, metaphysical tales of love, loss and high times all tied together by surgically precise keyboard strokes and guitar shrieks. What makes this album special is the way in which Ocean transforms his words into emotional whirlwinds that are still relatable.
In “Thinkin Bout You” Ocean flexes his sarcastic wit in the second verse as he sings: “No I don’t like you, I just thought you were cool enough to kick it/Got a beach house I could sell you in Idaho since you think/that I don’t love you, I just thought you were cute.” In “Pyramids,” the nearly 10-minute lead single from Channel Orange, Ocean sings of a certain “progressive” relationship gone awry. “What good is jewel that ain’t still precious/How could you run off on me?” Ocean’s repeal on his first love comes full circle in “Bad Religion.” "This unrequited love,” he sings. “To me it's nothing but a one-man cult, and cyanide in my styrofoam cup. I could never make him love me."
When Ocean came out last week, he shared an anecdote about finally telling his first love how he felt. The feeling wasn’t reciprocated, and the man walked out of the car to see his girlfriend. On Ocean’s final effort on Channel Orange, “End,” you can hear this event play out. Unlike most of his lyrics, this isn’t cryptic. It’s just raw, plain and simple. That's the beauty in Frank Ocean’s art though. He'll allow anyone to dissect his music and identity, but sometimes it’s just better to not think and just listen. Channel Orange isn’t a gay or straight man’s diary. It isn’t pop, R&B or soul. It's just a great album.