Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra (2011)

Frank Ocean might be new to you, but he isn’t new to the music business. Moving from New Orleans to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina, Frank decided to pursue a career in music. Working hard for four years- he finally gained the recognition he deserved. Frank Ocean inked a deal with Def Jam Recordings, joined the much buzzed about OFWGKTA collective, and penned songs for artists like Brandy, Justin Bieber, and John Legend.

However, the label slept on his solo efforts, so the 23-year-old took matters into his own hands by self-releasing his debut album Nostalgia, ULTRA as a free download on his personal blog in February 2011.

Anyone who has access to commercial radio these days has no doubt heard his first single “Novacane” by now. A story about a dental student who pays her tuition by working in the adult film industry (and her recreational use of the anesthetic drug for which the song is named), “Novacane,” while ever popular, is actually among Nostalgia’s weaker tracks. This is not to say that it’s weak in general – it just means he is capable of even more.

Though his OFWGKTA affiliates helped influence his D.I.Y. approach to getting his music out there, Ocean is the oddest (and oldest) of the Odd Future crew. While Tyler The Creator and company have been widely lambasted for their ignorant, hateful, and disturbing lyrics, Ocean’s songwriting demonstrates compassion and insight. He sings, “I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and woman, but between love and love” on “We All Try,” a youthfully optimistic tune about having faith in humankind despite our many shortcomings.

He’s less optimistic but more imaginative on “Strawberry Swing,” a post-apocalyptic tale backed by a Coldplay sample that demonstrates his eclectic influences. Among these influences are also classic rockers tht include The Eagles, sampled on “American Wedding,” and synthpop sweethearts MGMT on “Nature Feels,” a freaky little number that details an Eden-esque fantasy about gettin’ it on in the garden.

On “There Will Be Tears,” a song that borrows heavily from British R&B singer Mr. Hudson, Ocean sings us the tears he secretly shed over his inexplicably absent father, delivering the kind of self-awareness that’s missing in a lot of today’s songwriting. He continues this trend on what might be his strongest piece so far, “Songs For Women,” an introspective and catchy mid-tempo jam that outlines ways his talent has helped him both gain and lose love.

While his songwriting skills are probably his greatest talent, his buoyant and evocative tenor also shows promise. We can look forward to hearing an increase in range and strength in his voice as he continues to refine his talents through his solo work as well as upcoming collaborations with Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and Nas.

After the acclaim he’s been getting from fans as well as other artists, even Def Jam can no longer ignore him- they have scheduled an official release of Nostalgia, Lite, an abbreviated version of his original self-release. It will be available in stores on July 26th.

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