Tag Archives: Frank Ocean

A Swanky 2012: Part One

21 Dec

[For an Introduction to A Swanky 2012, go here.]

 

The Bowl:  Las Vegas Bowl – Washington v. Boise State 

The Pick:  UW (+5)

The Album:  Blunderbuss by Jack White

Considering he was the predominant musical decision-maker in The White Stripes, it wasn’t too surprising that Jack White continued the musical themes of later Stripes’ albums on his first official solo release, Blunderbuss.  As the Stripes progressed through their discography, they moved from a messy, primitive version of blues-rock to more layered and polished songs that brought in instruments like pianos and xylophones to round out the sound and take things in new directions.  Blunderbuss is an extension of that well-rounded approach to rock and roll.

On Blunderbuss, Jack still has his signature guitar wail jumping around on tracks, but he also relies heavily on touches like pianos, fiddles, and slide guitars.  The result is an album that traffics in lush country and blues sounds, with more progressive and swelling musical moments than sporadic and frenetic ones.

Not that there’s a total lack of the sneering and balls-out electric attack that White made his name on – “Sixteen Saltines” and “Freedom at 21” in particular offer up a pure rock attitude that few other releases this year could consistently rival.  On the whole, Blunderbuss lives up to its name, with its emphasis on grandiose, powerful, and vintage musical touches.  What makes it a great record is that it also maintains an immediate and contemporary feeling – the deep emotions and energy pulsing underneath the music make an impact even if you don’t happen to be listening on your vintage record player.

 

The Bowl:  Pinstripe Bowl – West Virginia v. Syracuse

The Pick:  WVU (-4)

The Album:  good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar

Defining a ‘hip-hop album of the year’ is a trickier proposition than a lot of other musical genres.  The criteria that a ‘best album’ must meet depends on what side a listener comes down on a variety of different aesthetic arguments – the value of an independent release versus one from a major label, the value of lyrical content versus lyrical flow, the value of the beats’ production versus the value of the artists’ wordplay over said beats.  Different value decisions on arguments like these can greatly affect how someone perceives the overall strength or weakness of a particular hip-hop record.

Taking many of these value arguments into account, Kendrick’s good kid is the rare record that is an album of the year contender across the board.  Facing improbably high expectations as the supposed savior of West Coast hip-hop, especially after a public co-sign by the good Dr. Dre himself, Kendrick rose to the occasion by doing something many others before him had failed to do – he expanded his sound and opened his music to a wider audience without compromising the unique and singular artistic voice inside him.

Make that voices, actually.  Borrowing a page from Biggie’s book, Kendrick stretches his vocals all over good kid, delivering a wordy, mesmerizing lyrical flow in several different registers and time signatures.  The result is a breathlessly talented vocal performance, and one that backs up all the flash of the style with actual substance.  Kendrick pinwheels between entertaining tales of street life and haunting inner dialogues, pondering where he can find a compromise between an enlightened social consciousness and the hard-edged street mentality that’s glorified by his peers.

There’s not really a dull or uninspired moment on the record, with Kendrick indulging his jazz influences by taking songs in entirely unexpected yet brilliant new sonic directions.  And in the end, he manages to embrace, deconstruct, and elevate the West Coast hip-hop legacy that he was tasked to salvage.  On that front in particular, all you need to do is listen to “m.A.A.d city” – all the way through the insanely great 6-second instrumental coda that pours a 40 out in Eazy-E’s memory – and you know that the West Coast, and hip-hop as a whole, is in good hands.

 

The Bowl:  Alamo Bowl – Texas v. Oregon State

The Pick:  OSU (-2)

The Albumchannel ORANGE by Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean’s major-label debut was surrounded by a heady buzz before its release, due in large part to his public honesty about a past relationship with a man.  Once channel ORANGE dropped however, the music itself pushed everything aside as the only discussion point worth mentioning.  The album is a lush, seductive, and compulsively listenable showcase of Frank’s considerable talents.

Frank’s voice and accompanying production can sound a lot like Stevie Wonder at times, and ORANGE also sounds a lot like vintage Stevie at several points when it finds the sweet spot between getting spiritual and getting weird.  There are the earnest odes to past, current, and hopefully future lovers, and then there are esoteric excursions into whatever universal headspace Frank is concerned with at the time.

The soundscape of ORANGE is constantly shifting, and just when something like the proggy R&B of “Pyramids” starts to get too close to self-indulgent territory, a tightly wound piece of funky soul like “Lost” will get things moving forward again.  The most striking aspect of ORANGE  is arguably Frank’s gift for crafting and delivering vocal hooks, and when those hooks are put together with his voice, it’s a lethal combination.  “Thinking About You” is a perfect example of the rest of the record – it slinks into your head and doesn’t leave until you’ve heard it enough times to be convinced that Franks’ falsetto is your own.

 

The Bowl:  Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl – TCU v. Michigan State

The Pick:  TCU (-2.5)

The Album:  Fear Fun by Father John Misty

Hearing a beautifully melodic voice over a quietly strumming guitar deliver an opening lyric of “Pour me another drink / and punch me in the face / you can call me Nancy” was one of the most pleasurable listening experiences in 2012.  That piece of music and subsequent response can accurately sum up the rest of Father John Misty’s debut album, Fear Fun. 

FJM frontman Josh Tillman was introduced to the music world as the drummer of the Fleet Foxes, and he brings some of that group’s musical aesthetic choices to his new project.  There’s some of that vintage, folksy sound, the powerful yet delicate vocals, the use of choral-esqe harmonizing.  Outside of those similarities, however, the music of FJM takes a hard left from the classical, introspective, and straight-faced earnestness of Fleet Foxes.  Instead, we get a wicked sense of humor and dry, gleeful tales of overindulgent debauchery.

If you happen to catch a glimpse of an FJM live performance, you can get a pretty clear image of what Tillman’s getting at with this group.  There’s a serious band dynamic, and a clear love of the music they’re making – the soaring, almost achingly beautiful moments that FJM can hit have some real emotion coursing through them.  And then at the same time, there’s Tillman in the front, slyly smiling and unable to stop from slowly sashaying his hips to the groove as he drops one-liner after one-liner.  It’s rootsy, folkish rock music from a too-smart-for-his-own-good troubadour.  And it’s great enough to stand on its own as much more than just a big band side project.

 

The Bowl:  Chick-fil-A Bowl – Clemson v. LSU

The Pick:  LSU (-4)

The Album:  Young Hunger by Chad Valley

Chad Valley wears his musical influences loudly and proudly.  R & B and power pop from the 80s and 90s are embraced, dressed up, given beats to play with, and then left loose to dance all over Young Hunger.  The result is an album that sounds vaguely familiar, yet wholly unique at the same time.  Valley’s high-register vocals underscore the sensitive and lovelorn subjects and emotions his lyrics typically cover, and the earnest sentimentality of many tracks may turn off some of the more cynical listeners out there.

Underneath the shiny exterior, however, lay some funky grooves that hit somewhere deeper.  It’s here where Young Hunger becomes more than just a bedroom-produced homage to some music geek’s beloved genre classics.  Valley brings in some of indie music’s more promising new faces, and they help him build hook on top of hook before setting things off on inspired melodic runs.

Young Hunger will lure you in and lull you to a trance on the soft bed of Valley’s vocals and warm production.  Before you realize it, he’s locked you in, and the beats start getting a little more dynamic.  At that point, it’s only a matter of time before you’re out on the dancefloor, professing your love right along with him.

 

Part Two of A Swanky 2012 Coming Soon…

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Summer Livin’: Sunset, For Now

29 Aug

Editor’s Note:  Summer Livin’ is a segment in which we ask our friend Steed to offer some words of wisdom on how to best enjoy certain staples of the summer months.  For further reason as to why this should be appointment Internet all summer long, check out the Introduction.  On to the easy livin’.

“I heard a pretty cool bit of news today.  The month of August is Blue Moon month – named as such not because it’s been sponsored by orange slices and wheat beers, but because there will be TWO full moons during this month.  This Friday, the 31st, will be the last Blue Moon before 2015.  Now, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m looking forward to some weird shit going down because of this Blue Moon.  Think about it – a normal full moon puts a stir in people and leads to all kinds of shenanigans.  Times that by two and color it blue?  On a Friday night before a holiday weekend?  Party time.

I bring up this particularly festive lunar event not just to put out a big Party APB, but also because  it’s coinciding with the end of Summer 2012.  I know people will be throwing around the term ‘Indian Summer’ all September long, but for me, the end of August is the end of the golden season.  School has already started for a lot of people, football games have kicked off, and Labor Day is about to put an emphatic period on all of your summer fashion trends.

This time of year is always bittersweet.  It’s tough to say goodbye to the sun-kissed days of summer.  Gets a little bit emotional for me, and I’m sure you feel the same.  But if you spent the last few months doing it right, you’ve got a lot of sweet memories to look back on.  And looking forward, fall is a pretty badass time of the year, with tailgates and costume parties beckoning.

So – don’t just spend this final August weekend weeping around your campfire.  Get a little Blue Moon Crazy, and take some time to celebrate all the awesome times you had in Summer ’12.  I’ll get things started by running down a few of my personal Hall of Fame moments from this year:

Conquered the community pool

I went to my local community pool at least 3 days a week this summer, and for the first month or so, I was ridiculed endlessly by a 12-year old tyrant named Gregory.  Gregory would spend all day throwing front- and back-flip combinations off the high dive with ease, and then him and his little buddies would cluster around the edge of the deep end and heckle me as I tried to complete my own dives.  I don’t normally get rattled easily, but I’m not a big fan of heights, and when that was combined with the fact that I was trying to impress several of the single mothers on the side of the pool, it got me all out of sorts.  I was belly-flopping, landing on my back, and at a couple points, I just lost my cool and had to do the Climb Down Of Shame as a chorus of adolescent laughter rained down on my bowed head.  After a few weeks of this, I had had enough, and one night I rented the movie Warrior
starring Bane and some other jacked dude.  This fired me up to start a fierce mental training regimen, and three days later, I threw down a perfect double back-flip in Gregory’s face.

Went streaking at a major league sporting event

I’ve always wanted to feel that unique adrenaline rush you’d get upon running proudly nude in front of 30,000+ screaming fans.  This summer, my dream finally came true thanks to my cousin Tobias getting a job as a security guard for my hometown MLB team.  One bright and sunny Sunday, Tobias managed to give me a few minutes’ window of lax security around the right field fence, and I took full advantage.  I popped a greenie, dropped the pants, and hopped onto that fresh cut grass for a quick jog.  It was glorious, and I managed to get at least four minutes’ worth of applause before getting the old Taser treatment.  There was only one drawback – that particular game happened to be Little League Day at the ballpark, with tons of young ballplayers in attendance.  As a result, instead of just getting the light misdemeanor I was expecting, I had to do some heavy duty lawyerin’ to make sure I didn’t end up on some national watch lists.

Started my own day party

Early in the summer, I had been hearing all this ‘Day Party’ buzz from acquaintances and lovers in places like Hollywood and Las Vegas.  Y’know – bars or clubs would set up their decks or poolside areas with swanky decorations, get a DJ or two to spin banging electronic hits, and things would get straight Cray during the normally laid-back hours of 12pm – 4pm.  Champagne showers, water guns, and everyone in high-class yet revealing bathing suits.  This sounded like something that I needed to become a part of, so I took the initiative and started a weekly party myself.  I learned how to DJ by watching a couple of Tiesto and LMFAO concerts online, rented out the back deck of my local Joe’s Crab Shack, bought a foam machine, and let ladies drink for free.  The first party was a little low-key, but I made sure the right people had a great time, and one week later, the lines were around the block and I had a branded party series on my hands.  The damn thing popped off all summer long.

 Became a music blog sensation

For a two-day stretch in June, a coupla heavy rainstorms blew through the area and put a damper on all the outdoor party activities we had planned for.  After a few hours of being cooped up inside, I decided to counter the impending madness of cabin fever by letting my inner musical savant come out and play.  What followed was a 40-hour long stretch of Goldschlager- and amphetamine-fueled musical experimentation, resulting in a mixtape of European Big House interpretations of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange.  The track “Trancin’ Bout You” caught fire on the blog message boards, and for a couple of weeks, my audio goodness was being streamed and loved all over the world.  It disappeared completely after that, but man, what a run.

Met Channing Tatum

I went through a heady period in the middle of the summer that, for lack of a better word, I would have to call my Magic Mike phase.  My friend Tiff and her sister talked me into checking the movie out with ’em, and two hours and three boxes of wine later, I was a whole different person.  Can’t say what it was, but something about those dudes following their dreams gave me a whole new outlook on life – among other things I got a new workout regimen, finally went back to work on my solo album, and I became a much more sensitive lover.  About a month into this lifestyle change, I was at my local GNC when I locked eyes with a fellow across the store and saw that it’ was Mr. Channing Tatum himself – a vital part of my new lifestyle change.  In my excitement to see Chan, I blacked out for a second, and when I came to, I had my shirt off and was asking what he thought about my workout progress so far.  Long story short – and I don’t blame this one on Chan at all, just his personal ‘advisers’ – I’m now no longer allowed within 300 yards of Mr. Tatum or that particular GNC.

These are just a taste of the summer memories I’ll be toasting to during this week’s Blue Moon Party.  Hopefully you have plenty of misty-eyed reminiscing to do yourself.  Keep it safe out there, and I’ll see you next summer.”

Swanky’s 12 Play

20 Jul

Frank Ocean’s new album Channel ORANGE had its official release date this week, getting a warm reception from critics and fans alike.  The album marked the major-label debut of a soulful artist who looks poised for a memorable career – one that flourishes within the world of R&B while always looking for ways to transcend its conventions and expectations.  Mr. Ocean should be considered as much more than just another slow-jam mixtape favorite, but his ability to craft an excellent, seduction-ready tune should not be overlooked.  He’s shown an understanding of what it takes to make some great slow jams – intense emotion, tenderness, the appreciation for the way personal lyrics can connect the listener to the singer, an ear for hooky vocal runs, the willingness to get weird and freaky at times.  All signs point to Frank being good for at least a few classic slow jams in the future.

As we await these future jams, Channel ORANGE has for the moment gotten us thinking about other memorable seductive tracks from the past.  Since it’s currently Friday, and almost time to let your hair down for the weekend, we figured we would offer up some of our own favorite jams.  Yes, a large number of these tracks hail from the mid- to late-90s.  And there are tons of great slow jams out there.  But no slow jam playlist can ever be objective.  So take it or leave it, but we suggest you take it.  If interested, shoot us an email, and for negotiable fees, we can send over the playlist in your ideal format: tape, burned CD (title in Sharpie), or warm, warm vinyl.  Just let us know.  And we hope that this weekend, you may find yourself inside on a stormy night, with someone you feel very special about.  With these jams bumping

There’s Kelly’s 12 Play, and this is Swanky’s 12 Play.

Joe – “I Wanna Know”

Usher – “Nice ‘N’ Slow”

Tyrese – “Signs of Love Making”

Wyclef – “Mona Lisa”

All 4 One – “I Can Love You Like That”

OutKast [Andre 3000] – “Take Off Your Cool”

Chris Isaak – “Wicked Game”

LL Cool J – “Doin’ It”

Ginuwine – “In Those Jeans”

R. Kelly – “Bump n’ Grind”

LL Cool J – “Hey Lover”

Keith  Sweat – “Twisted”

Personal Soundtrack

16 Jun

The Song

Pyramids by Frank Ocean

 

With “Pyramids”Frank Ocean pushes beyond the sonic and temporal constraints of the standard R&B song and reaches for an epic scale.  Over the course of it’s nearly ten-minute running time, “Pyramids” journeys from the nightclub, to the night streets, to the bedroom, to Africa, to the pyramids, to a fantastical land populated by Cleopatra and cheetahs – all on the back of Frank’s silky smooth voice.

As the subject matter of the lyrics shifts, so too does the musical style and tone of the beat and vocals.  Early on in the song, a pulsing electronic hook takes over for a few moments, and it’s an early sign that this is not your typical down-tempo track.  This part of the beat wouldn’t sound out of place on a straightforward house track, but in “Pyramids” there’s something about it that’s mysterious, echoing, and expansive.  As if it were sounding out in the desert night.

The best part of the song comes near the halfway mark, when Frank shifts into a vocal style that’s very near to rapping.  Lyrical hooks come fast and furious, and the whole thing sounds as if the narrator of Usher’s “Nice & Slow” dropped E and went to the club instead of driving straight to pick up his lady.

It’s easy to make comparisons between the smooth voices of Usher and Frank Ocean, but the awesomely weird self-indulgence of “Pyramids” does a lot to set Mr. Ocean apart as a wholly unique artist.  With this song, Frank creates a track that doesn’t sound like anything else out there.  This is not a radio-ready track, even though there are sections of the song that could theoretically be cut and edited and released to popular acclaim on your local Hot 100 station.  No, this is a deep album cut, an artistic statement that showcases Frank’s beautiful croon, his ear for sneaky hooks, and his weird, freaky sensibilities.  “Pyramids” not only sets the stage for Frank’s full album, Channel Orange, dropping next month, but it also raises the appeal of catching him live.  Will he turn “Pyramids” into a 20-minute long showstopper?  Wouldn’t be surprised.

The Activity

“Mmmm.  B, where you going?”

“What?  Go back to sleep, baby.  I’m not going anywhere.”

“Fuck that.  I can see you in the mirror.  You just put your panties back on.  Those cheetah print ones I got you.”

“Oh, honey.  I’m sorry.  You caught me.  But I need to go.”

“What?  Where?  You can’t just leave like that.  Especially after what just went down in here.”

“Mmm.  Yeah.  But I really need to go.”

“Well, fuck.  Where are you going?  And what time is it?

“It’s almost midnight.  And don’t worry bout where I’m going.  I just gotta take care of something.  I’ll see you soon.”

“Whoa.  Slow up.  Are those six-inch heels you’re putting on?  Oh, fuck, babe, really?  The Pyramids?  I thought you were done there.”

“Frankie, baby, I’m sorry.  But you know how it is.  I have an obligation.  He’s the pharaoh.  As in The Pharaoh.  I thought you understood that.”

“Babe, there’s no reason you have to leave.  You’re with me now.  Fuck that Pharaoh title.  Listen to that jazz playing.  I got rubies in my damn chain.  My bills paid.  My whip ain’t go no gas tank, but so what?

“Frank, don’t do this.  I gotta go.”

“Fine.  I’m running a bath.  If you’re not back in an hour I’ll find someone else to share it with.”

“Frank!”

“I’m done with this conversation.”

“Don’t be like this.  I’ll see you later.  Okay?”

“Air guitar.”

[Door Slams]

“WhoaaOhhhhhhhhh…………”