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Review: Frank Ocean’s ‘channel ORANGE’ channels raw emotional resonance

It’s 4 a.m. I’ve sat here for about four hours trying to put the words together for this review.

Corny as it may sound, it’s the honest truth.

I’m struggling.

Let’s rewind.

Aug. 8, 2011. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne” drops … finally. My iTunes pre-order downloads at the stroke of midnight.

“No Church in the Wild.” It’s the first of the album’s 16 tracks. A rough beat eventually opens up a silky hook not from one of the usual suspects – not John Legend or Kid Cudi or even Justin Vernon – but rather Frank Ocean.

Who? Never heard of the guy.

Fast forward to July 4, 2012.

Ocean has since dropped a mixtape, nearly fallen out with Def Jam Recordings and has become a prominent figure on the Odd Future Records roster. Now, though, rumors are circulating that he’s bisexual.

In the early hours of that Independence Day, Ocean posted an image to his Tumblr containing the raw text from the liner notes for his upcoming debut studio album “channel ORANGE.”

He confirmed on his own accord that he is, indeed, bisexual.

I don’t need to get into why that was important. Heck, I could even need to get into why it’s not important, but that’s an entirely different conversation for another time and place. (But because I can’t control myself, my stance is essentially this: Shouldn’t it be all about the music, man? Why do we, as modern Western folk, even care what a person’s sexuality is anymore? Ah, here I go …)

But I digress.

My expectations were pretty high for the album. Hell, there was already plenty of buzz before Ocean put those rumors about his sexuality to rest, but I assumed after last week’s news the album would be charged with a kind of raw emotion that would really make the album resonate.

Boy, did it.

It’s 4:30 a.m. July 10. I’ve listened to “channel ORANGE,” which has released on iTunes a week early, almost four times through. I can’t stop listening and I honestly don’t know that I will any time soon.

Let’s start with “Bad Religion.” Ocean performed it on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” which aired Tuesday night as the album was released on iTunes.

The performance left me awestruck. It had a melancholic beauty to it from the string section, the Roots’ accompaniment, Ocean’s falsetto. It all came together into one sonically orgasmic package.

This track, and the video from “Fallon,” is on repeat. And it’s not even three minutes long! I need more.

At this point, Twitter has been abuzz with “Pink Matter” because it features OutKast’s Andre 3000, who peeks his head out about as often as Puxatawney Phil. It’s hauntingly stunning; somehow even glummer than “Bad Religion,” yet so incredibly intoxicating with its chilling string section and vocals.

The album’s lead track, “Thinkin Bout You,” might be its most important. The lovey-dovey, R&B lyrics are a bit androgynous, sure, but after Ocean brazenly opened up about his sexuality a week ago, they set a tone from the get-go that gives the album its resonance, and it doesn’t stop.

“channel ORANGE” is R&B. It’s great not because it’s pure R&B, but because it’s got this mesmerizing catharsis of sounds. Yeah, it’s got some of those standard slow, sexy R&B beats, but those super-sexy beats are complemented by some super-sexy electronics. It’s what makes “channel ORANGE” its own super-sexy beast.

Look at “Pyramids,” one of the album’s lead singles. It’s got a fairly standard hip-hop beat but the electronic layers, a gritty, late-night hook and poignant guitar outro give it an entirely distinct identity.

The rest of the album kind of keeps with this aesthetic. “channel ORANGE” is sexy in a way that I would visualize late nights in the city in the ’80s were. That’s just how it feels. “Sierra Leone” is a good example.

But there are some more fun tracks, too. “Fertilizer,” which is more of an interlude than anything, is catchy and upbeat. “Sweet Life,” too, has a charming, jazzy feel.

It’s 5:30 a.m. and I’m working through my fifth listen, yet I’ve only covered seven of the album’s 17 tracks for brevity’s sake. Just listen to the album for yourself.

Maybe I’m overreacting here. Maybe I need to let this album set in for a few more days. Maybe this is the corniest, most clichéd thing you’ve ever read. But I haven’t been this moved by an album since West’s 2010 magnum opus, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” That was the only anything – movies, TV and video games included – I’ve given an “A” to during my time at The Lantern.

“channel ORANGE” is the second.

Grade: A

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