Frank Ocean nostalgia/ultra
Rating: 8 out of 10 Tracy Morgans
After one listen to nostalgia/ultra, its easy to understand why A-listers like Kanye, Beyonce and Pharrell have been recently seen in the studio working with Frank Ocean. Def Jam is even releasing a pared down version of Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia Ultra as an EP this summer. Odd Future’s R&B-laced maestro is clearly a talented singer and songwriter with a penchant for creative narratives and smooth vocals. Comparisons to Drake’s So Far Gone are highly likely due to the eclectic range of samples (Coldplay, MGMT, The Eagles), but Ocean sticks to what he does best: singing and songwriting without the raps.
Like many astute emcees/singers of late, Ocean utilizes a plethora of samples from indie artists, but not in a lazy way that most do. The samples also play nicely with the theme of the album. nostalgia/ultra is filled with “rewind” and “fast forward” sounds from a cassette player that gives the album a feeling like a mixtape passed onto a loved one. Opening cut “Strawberry Swing” uses the Coldplay track to tell a reflective story of Ocean’s joy in life, even at the end of the world. “American Wedding” is a pained narrative shortly following a quick-decision wedding. Ocean takes listeners on an emotional roller coaster that reflects the meaning (or lack there-of) marriage in the U.S. today to the tune of The Eagles’ “Hotel California”. What could have been a train-wreck sample choice manages to paint Ocean and his tattoo’d wedding ring perfectly. I may be a little biased due to my overwhelming love for MGMT’s “Electric Feel”, but Ocean’s filthy cut is an apt interpretation as well. Instead of a tired sexual R&B opus, he at least brings ideas of making love to a natural, Adam & Eve level. Perhaps the best sample though is via Mr Hudson’s “There Will Be Tears.” Ocean goes from an Kanye 808’s & Heartbreaks inspired pace to an uptempo ballad about a deceased grandparent. The change in tempo makes it seem as though Ocean is running toward his grandfather in hopes of joining him.
Aside from the creative sample choices, the number one weapon Ocean has in his arsenal is his penchant for infectious hooks. “Lovecrimes”, “Swim Good” and “Novacane” shine as great songs, but its nearly impossible not have them revolving around your head all day. Lets put it this way, I wouldn’t be surprised if the The Dream gives Frank Ocean a call for his next album. Emotions are also the theme of “Novacane” where Ocean compares viagara, Auto Tune and multiple women to the feeling of draining his body numb. In rhythmic fashion and paced tones Ocean recites:
Every single record
I wonder if the clever observational verse detailing a crazy weekend in Cali with a chick is true? Thumping bass and keys make the lyrics of “Lovecrimes” seem like an afterthought, but they are the most intriguing part of the song. An intense love affair starts with bedroom tale of menace, turns to love letters that reveal jealousy that finally ends in runaway love. The piecing of some bat shit lines about crazy love from Nicole Kidman in “Eyes Wide Shut” are particularly fitting. “Swim Good” is the most personal track on the EP. Reference to a trunk full of “broken hearts” and heading to a funeral perhaps cleansing himself of his past and starting anew or burying them entirely.
Its apparent how much 808’s & Heartbreak has inspired Ocean (he even mentions it on the “Swim Good”), but he only takes the best attributes: Mild vocal effects, paced keys and a “heart on your sleeve” attitude to songwriting. Much like The Weeknd’s recent rise to prominence, I have a feeling people will look to nostalgia/ultra as a reference point to a star in the making.