Make sure to to check out all of our Best of 2012 coverage.
A few weeks ago Frank Ocean took to his tumblr and said “I can’t save the world.” And while this may be true, Frank Ocean is still my hero.
This year was full of milestones for Ocean. In July, he released his first major-label LP, channel ORANGE, which was well received by both the public and critics. A couple weeks before this, Ocean made history in the R&B/hip-hop scene by coming out to the world that his first love was a man. And just days ago it was announced that Ocean is nominated for six Grammy awards including ‘Best New Artist’ and ‘Album of The Year.’ Albeit the Grammys may not be the greatest gauge for defining good music, being nominated is nonetheless a remarkable achievement.
It was surely a year of success for Ocean. What makes him so incredible to me, however, is that he did it all by keeping it real. Frank Ocean turned the courageous task of honesty into an art form.
Take channel ORANGE for instance. The album plays like a cohesive book of short stories–each song channeled through Frank Ocean’s soul and narrated in beautifully vivid detail. The album’s first song, ‘Thinkin bout You” reflects upon a first love that was, unfortunately, unreciprocated. Any listener can hear his sincerity and feel the pain in his hair raising falsetto, whether you’ve been through the same or not.
This unreciprocated or “unrequited” love seems to be the leitmotif of the album and a driver for much of Ocean’s work. It appears in “Bad Religion” when Ocean seeks counsel from a Muslim taxi driver, while lamenting his conflicted heart, “He said allahu akbar / I told him don’t curse me / But boy you need prayer / I guess it couldn’t hurt me / If it brings me to my knees it’s a bad religion / This unrequited love.” Ocean’s humor and cultural genius are evident here. channel ORANGE is teeming with both.
Frank Ocean is also clearly influenced by the musical giants that came before him and is the modern day hybrid of Prince, Stevie Wonder and Elton John. You can hear the “Bennie and The Jets” piano pounding on “Super Rich Kids” and the “Purple Rain” ethereal sound effects and epic guitar in the 10-minute sex infused anthem, “Pyramids.”
But what makes Ocean’s music hit me and many others in my generation on such a personal level is his ability to weave the threads of present day American culture through his fresh, next-level songwriting. In an age where love takes no specific shape or color and sexual preference is equally ambiguous, Ocean challenges cultural labels and stereotypes when he sings, “what is your woman, is she just a container for the child, that soft pink matter.” He speaks for those of his time, a jaded folk “lost in the thrill of it all.”
Ocean has said that he makes music “for the sport and the therapeutic benefits.” But no matter the case–whether he’s writing to mend a broken heart or writing about lives filled with “mango, peaches and limes,” he manifests his feelings into complex masterpieces. His brave revelations on channel ORANGE (and his tumblr) make him vulnerable to the world, but he stays true to himself and embraces reality. This is what makes the album so brilliant and why people of all walks of life can relate to his songs. Frank Ocean is the voice of my generation and one of the most gifted songwriters/storytellers of all time.
Beach House - Bloom
I get the most immense wave of nostalgia whenever I listen to Beach House. Even though I only started listening to them this year, I feel as though their albums have been with me for years. There’s a powerful energy that emits from every song on Bloom that sends me straight back to the magical days of my youth.
The xx - Coexist
Although the much anticipated sophomore album by The xx didn’t uncover new territory musically for the band, Coexist brought a slew of heartbreaking emotions within me that had me hooked from the first listen. While I don’t consider Coexist an instant classic, the album, in many ways, has much more emotional depth than their 2009 self-titled debut. Back then, The xx were just teenagers and despite the fact that they were teenagers, they were way ahead of their time, but simply didn’t have enough life experience to write emphatically about love. Their sophomore album is more refined, mature and all the while extremely depressing. This album struck me on a very personal level and even though my heart breaks with every listen, it’s a profound experience each time.