Ocean’s 11 (out of 10): Frank Ocean’s awesome, long-awaited CD

hmo110716frankoceanFrank Ocean, Blond. The genius of Frank Ocean’s intimate second full-length release is its scant emphasis on sexuality. Despite the attention given to Ocean’s queerness after his groundbreaking coming out in 2012, when the gifted Grammy-winner posted a heartfelt letter to Tumblr revealing his bent sexuality and affection for a special fella, Blond positions gayness as inconsequential to overall worth. Take, for instance, a casual mention of the gay bar you took me to. Understated lyrics related to his sexual fluidity evoke a brazen label defiance that new generations of queer rebels wear like a badge of honor. For that reason alone, the album is important and influential, as self-exploratory revelations draw upon nuanced recollections neatly tucked into serene R&B mid-tempos that enrapture you with their inviting sweetness.

Beyond his euphoric soundscapes is Ocean’s stream of consciousness, imparting cinematic and transient anecdotes that range from the loss of childhood virtue (remember how it was: climb trees, Michael Jackson, it all ends here…) to the complicated circumstances that adulthood summons. “Solo” sits atop a bed of organ accompaniment, throwing you into a divine state of hypnosis with the chorus’ inhale, inhale, there’s heaven, a reprise that couldn’t sound better unless you were hearing it in a hazy dream. “White Ferrari” is another respite. Here, Ocean falls into a quiet daydream, just a lover, their existential talk and an atmospheric blend of guitar and synths. The reverie, a classic among classics, concludes with indie virtuoso James Blake assuring, We’re so OK here; we’re doin’ fine.

On “Pink + White,” Beyoncé adorns the otherworldly outro with a gentle wind of whispery undertones, suppressing her presence to let Ocean have his moment. As Ocean reflects on scenes from his life throughout one of 2016’s greatest and most moving sets — his feelings and playbacks about sex, social media and those unforgettable car rides; the boyfriends, the girlfriends — it’s our own we’re seeing in the rearview mirror. Five stars.

hmo110716boniverBon Iver, 22, A Million. Bon Iver’s latest is a rumination on the uncertainty of life and time and moments and other stuff and things. Beautifully cryptic things. One: a river that knows no bounds, that doesn’t heed a line… or stay behind, a beautiful allegory for perseverance. Another: some unidentified man whose guitar Vernon carries, galvanizing him to “go in.”

Vernon’s fragmented imagery seems to suggest a man at a crossroads. Him? Perhaps. On 22, A Million, he takes the road less traveled, casting his Grammy-winning style of Wisconsin-born folk — heard on his 2006 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago and, later, on its self-titled follow-up — into a bold, futuristic discord that progressively deconstructs as it enacts a meticulous structural subversion. The result is hypnotic, as the album opens like something out of an alternate dimension on the sax-kissed “22 (Over S∞∞n)” and then, on “715 – CR∑∑KS,” he works his sinewy bellow into static distortion that wreaks havoc on the most neo of neo-folk.

The turning point of this challenging narrative is “21 M◊◊N WATER,” when the clamor is distilled into a soothing cascade of New Age-y synths. The transition into the next track, “8 (Circle)” (imagine an ’80s Bonnie Raitt ballad in the year 2040), is perfection. It almost couldn’t get better, except it does. The album’s coda, “00000 Million,” elicits tears for reasons initially unclear, and then it hits you; it’s because of this hopeful assertion: The days have no numbers. Because, too, the moment is meditative, tender and, performed on a creaky piano, rendered beautifully. And because, frankly, Bon Iver’s best, most life-affirming work is right in front of you. Four-and-a-half stars.

— Chris Azzopardi

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

2011 Year in Review: Music

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THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST | Chillwave specialist Ernest Greene of Washed Out turned ‘Within and Without’ into 2011’s best album — no matter what Adele thinks.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

You could say 2011 was the year of the superstar. Already-superstars Gaga, Beyonce and Britney dropped new albums confirming their status, while Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry became ones following the continued successes of 2010 discs. Kanye and Jay-Z teamed up to watch the throne and beardos Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver followed up their debuts with dreamy, though sometimes confusing releases.

Ultimately, it was Adele who ruled, leaving all others in the dust with an exercise in modern torch songs and declarative hits — so much so, she and 2011 are now practically synonymous.

But not exclusively. A few others made an impression on smaller fronts — and big ones, too. Each of the following resonated either through a chill groove or a strong beat, and ultimately made 2011 easy on the ears.

1. Washed Out, Within and Without What Ernest Greene does with this chillwave release is somewhere between a dream and astral projection. Each track floats in your ears as wonderful bubbles of music that are airy and delicate, but their impression is far more lasting. This isn’t just an album, but a luxury bath for the ears and soul, which made for practically infinite repeat plays. Key tracks: “Amor Fati,” “Eyes Be Closed.”

2. Caveman, CoCo Beware — In just two years, these Brooklyn indie rockers debuted their album with confidence to spare. Giving alt-rock sensibilities to Simon and Garfunkel folkisms, Caveman fits in the Grizzly Bear–Band of Horses vein and yet they still create a sound that will grow into their own. Those drums are to die for as is singer Matthew Iwanusa smooth tenor. Caveman’s release is more like a gift. Key tracks: “Decide,” “December 28th.”

3. Death Cab for Cutie, Keys and Codes Remix EP — By nature, most remixes are agony resulting in a soulless version of the original. That didn’t happen here in DCFC’s redux on their already- impressive Codes and Keys from earlier in the year. At times, the EP is even better than the original, with charged up versions of seven songs. Yeasayer, The 2 Bears and Cut Copy are among the remixers who don’t take away from DCFC’s spirit, but spike it huge with major beats. Key tracks: “Underneath the Sycamore,” “Some Boys.”

4. Adele, 21 This is very likely the album of the year for the entire world — and deservedly so. Adele channeled all the emotion of being done wrong by her man into a solid display of music. At times, she gets a little too sappy, but the strength of 21 isn’t just in Adele’s soulful voice, it’s also in her heart that is both pained and strengthened here. Plus, 21 pretty much just says “fuck you” to the ex the way we all wish we could. Key tracks: “Rolling in the Deep,” “Don’t You Remember.”

5. Adam Tyler, Shattered Ice — In his debut, Tyler broke through pop/dance music apathy to create a refreshing album of solid tunes. He recalls glorious pop of two and three decades ago but updates it with sexy lyrics and dynamic hooks. Tyler wrote all 11 songs and more than half of those are ready for the radio. Hopefully, someone will take notice, because Ice is too spectacular to be overlooked. Key tracks: “Pull the Trigger,” “I Won’t Let You Go.”

6. Real Estate, Days — Less is more with this complete package by the indie folk rockers from New Jersey. They smoothed out from their 2009 debut and bring a minimalist, but hardly simple approach to Days that shows off the band’s talents modestly, but considerably effectively with lush cascades of music. Days is a facile listen that may sound like background music, but you won’t forget it. Key tracks: “It’s Real,” “Younger than Yesterday.”

7. Beyonce, 4 — The diva missed out on big radio hits with this album, but she channeled her inner ‘80s-and-‘90s adult contemporaries and created a helluva fascinating album. Sidestepping the obvious, B dabbled in sophistication over aggression and came up with retro vibes without losing her style. She totally didn’t give up her skills trying for a big hit with “Rule the World (Girls)” but missed. That’s forgivable considering the brilliance of the rest. Key tracks: “Rather Die Young,” “I Care.”

8. CSS, La Liberacion — These Brazilian party rockers matured beautifully in their third album. For having a reputation of delivering queer-centric dance rock, earlier releases were a tad unfocused. CSS kept the same amped-up energy, but their songwriting and musicianship has grown into smart and sublime. From irreverence to slightly political, CSS looks like they have finally found their place. Key tracks: “City Grrrl,” “I Love You.”

9. Me’Shell Ndegéocello, Weather — Ndegéocello continues to bring the cool, and does so with the ultra-slick Weather. Her neo-soul chops have not been lost over the course of her almost two-decade career. Instead, she adds a layer of maturity with each new album and this year practically cultivated it into hip, soulful perfection. And that bass playing is so sexy, it’s borderline (but gloriously) obscene. Key tracks: “Chance,” “Dirty World.”

10. Emmeline, Someone to Be Coming in under the wire, Dallas singer Emmeline recently dropped off her disc personally to the Dallas Voice asking for a listen. Good thing she did, as she lies somewhere between Sarah MacLachlan and Regina Spektor. With earnest keyboards and charming vocals, she churned out one of the more delightful packages of tunes with a sugary edge that sticks just right and is wonderfully addictive. Key tracks: “Someone to Be,” “Dallas.”

…………………………

2011’s top LGBT releases

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Queer music was in full bloom over the last 12 months, with a wide range of LGBT artists — from veterans to newbies — strongly delivering great music. Here are some of the highlights that stuck out for us.
R.E.M, Collapse Into Now. Soon after this March release, the band announced they were breaking up after 30 years — with the appropriate greatest hits release in November.
Deborah Vial, Stages and Stones. The former Dallas gal showed off her chops from Hawaii in her soulful new album.

K.D. Lang and the Siss Boom Bang, Sing it Loud. Lang crooned, but also rocked gently with her new band.
Ariel Aparicio, Aerials. OutMusic Award winner Aparicio hit a strong note with his alt-rock album from August, fusing it with Latin flair.

Garrin Benfield, The Wave Organ Song. This scruffy folk-country artist relaxed into his fifth disc with a languid and poetic song cycle.

Girl in a Coma, Exits and All the Rest (pictured). The San Antonio rock trio made waves in 2011, landing on several year-end lists.

Brandon Hilton, Nocturnal. Hilton worked the web to his advantage to get his album on people’s radar and it worked both ways.

The Sounds, Something to Die For. The relentless alt-pop from these Swedes was one of the best music addictions of the year. And bi singer Maja Ivarsson sold it perfectly.

— R.L.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

GIVEAWAY: Tix to scruffy bear rockers Hello Lover at The Prophet Bar on Friday

Bears worldwide are likely enjoying the proclivity of indie bands and their overly bearded members. It’s a whole thing. From the Avett Brothers to Bon Iver, you can’t throw a stick far enough across the music landscape nowadays without snagging a few whiskers.

But sometimes you have to separate the men from the boys, which local band Hello Lover does quite nicely — mostly with strapping daddy lead singer Rob Dunlap (guess which one he is). The Oak Cliff-based band describes themselves as “sex rock.” We’re good with that. Bears, sex and rock ‘n’ roll — isn’t that how it goes?

Thanks to the guys at the Prophet Bar, we have three pairs of tickets to give away to Friday night’s show. Email me here with “Hello Lover” in the subject line to see the scruffers up close. Hello Lover headlines with Home Wrecker, Stew, Jefferson Colby also on the bill.

—  Rich Lopez