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

Hai-Q Music Review: ‘American Tragedy’

What’s a Hai-Q? Just our clever moniker for a queer-based quickie review (the “q” is for queer, get it?). In order to catch up on the large number of CDs coming in, we put our intern to the test of coming up with some poetry to describe the music. We’ll focus on the smaller releases so you won’t miss out on the bigger names, but we wanted to give these guys a shot, too.

In Hai-Q Music Review, we’ll first take a poetic approach to the album and then round it out with “Additional notes.”

 

Mysterious masked
Men sing about suicide
And end with good night

Additional notes:

American Tragedy is by far my favorite album from rap-rockers Hollywood Undead. Similar to the metal band Slipknot, members of Hollywood Undead conceal their faces with masks and bandanas, unique to each vocalist. Very fetishistic if I may add. I fell in love with “Everywhere I Go” when I was in high school and can’t seem to tear myself away from the new, catchy tunes of “Apologize” and “Comin’ In Hot” off the band’s second full-length release.

Tragedy kicks off with the powerful, dark hit “Been To Hell” which welcomed me to a city that will bring you to your knees and claims that this is a world where dreams become nightmares. Describing the city as a dirty and dark place, full of “pimps and sharks,” the vocalists in HU often refer to themselves as wolves. Johnny 3 Tears (J3T), one of the group’s rappers, chilled me to the bone with his lyrics Now you’re in the world of the wolves / and we welcome all you sheep.

One of my favorite songs on the album (if only for the chorus) is “Apologize,” with the lyrics  We don’t apologize / and that’s just the way it is / But we can harmonize / even if we sound like shit. Once again, the vocalist J-Dog is a wolf lending an intimidating air to the sound. Big wolves linin’ up and scorin’ little pigs, then a few lines later makes a reference to “huffing and puffing.” A charming note here is Charlie Scene’s contribution to the song. He’s teases himself with lines like Don’t invite Scene over, he pees at sleepovers / He asked your sister out so that he could cheat on her.

The CD gets serious with “I Don’t Wanna Die,” poetically touching on death and murder. The haunting chorus repeats I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna die / I don’t wanna die so you’re gonna have to. Charlie Scene raps, pondering if he can be saved by confession with blood on his hands. Eerie.

J3T gave me shivers with resonant raps. His last verse I gotta pick up the pieces, I gotta bury them deep / and when the dirt hits the coffin just go to sleep thrills me with its intensity. Again in the end, J3T’s lyrics Another life goes into the knife / I couldn’t let ’em breathe cause I didn’t wanna die move and disturb me (in the best way, of course) as he expands on the meaning of the chorus.

But there is levity with head-nodding “Gangsta Sexy,” with lyrics that fall back on silliness. Charlie Scene describes himself as ‘flossy,’ which isn’t a word I’d heard since Fergie used it in “Glamorous.”

“Bullet” is upbeat with extremely dark lyrics about suicide and self-mutilation. It’s almost oxymoronic, but works so well with that I didn’t flinch. I didn’t even think about how I was singing along about self-destruction with the chorus My legs are dangling off the edge / The bottom of a bottle is my only friend / I think I’ll slit my wrists again and I’m gone, gone, gone. The song ends with a child’s vocals that veered from the original tone.  It made me wonder if the child was lightening up the tone of the song with her adorable voice or if it was disturbing that they used a child to end a song about suicide. Still working on that one.

“Levitate” became one of my favorite tracks and yet is also about suicide and substance abuse. Still, its chorus always had me yelling at the top of my lungs along with the song.

“Pour Me” brings a feeling of sadness about alcoholism as opposed to the fury or helplessness of previous tracks. The chorus of One more drink, then I swear that I’m going home / Truth is, I don’t really have a place to go / So, pour me, pour me, pour me another made me sympathetic for the song’s character.

The album finishes with a goodbye in “Tendencies” — literally. The chorus repeats say goodnight mixed in with lyrics about fighting with closed eyes. This track bounced the album back from the sad, ballad-like “Pour Me” into  anger and violence, and ends  powerfully with So, shut your eyes, let darkness lead the fight, say goodnight, say good night.

Even with its dark undertones, American Tragedy is filled with sweet dreams.

Four stars (out of five).

 

—  admin