Just when Sour Grape thought the undeniably talented, yet shockingly outspoken rap ensemble, OFWGKTA, was done surprising the world, the LA crew throws another curve ball our way and his name is Frank Ocean. Smooth, sexy, bright, and oh so swag, Mr. Ocean is just what the R&B world needs. With a seductive voice reminiscent of Usher, fabulous beats, and the backing of his Odd Future homies, the 23-year old Californian is the total package. Watch out Treyz Songs, Ocean’s self-released debut, Nostalgia, Ultra, is bursting with potential that is sure to bring him to the forefront of the R&B scene.
As the title suggests, Nostalgia, Ultra gives a glimpse into Ocean’s past flings. However, it’s definitely not your average assortment of whiny love songs that so many R&B artists release today. And its not the abrasive, in your face hip-hop the rest of the Odd Future gang is producing either. Ocean’s debut is an intelligent collection of tracks that deserves a close listen. Filled with film references, his own philosophical beliefs, and even some biblical allusions, Frank Ocean is providing listeners with a much more artistic message than the usual “I get bitches and money.” But, he’s not trying to preach. With the addition of some blunt and descriptive sexual imagery in tracks like “Novacane,” “Songs for Women,” and “Nature Feels,” Ocean embodies the fantastically outrageous artistry that unifies the various members of the Odd Future collective.
The narrative is introduced right away, with the opening lyrics of a Coldplay cover titled “Strawberry Swing.” Transported to a scene from Ocean’s childhood, where he and his girl innocently paint strawberries on a swing, listeners immediately catch on to the album’s nostalgic theme. Furthering the theatrics, a background recording of a cassette tape permeates the various interludes scattered throughout the record, making the transitions flawless. The interludes also perfectly complement the album’s theme by making it sound like a burned tape that he made for one of his past sweethearts.
Next comes a scene from last year’s Coachella, where Ocean gives a shout-out to his drugged-out festival honey on “Novocane.” After blazing bong, railing lines for breakfast, and gettin’ down in an orgy, Ocean drops one of the catchiest tracks on the album, “We All Try.” Here, the R&B artist shows off his vocal talents, serenading listeners with a snapshot of his refreshingly optimistic outlook on life. Following the next interlude “Bitches Talkin,’” in which Ocean gives an amusing tribute to Radiohead, comes the light-hearted, electro-pop single, “Songs For Women.” Anyone can vibe Ocean’s swag on this track, where he spills his secrets about spittin’ game. And honestly, who cares if he writes songs to get with women, apparently it’s working quite well for Mr. Ocean. I know I wouldn’t mind listenin’ to a few bars of him harmonizing to Otis. HOT! He also pokes a little fun at Drake on this track, which is always welcome in my book.
The next interlude, “Goldeneye” fast-forwards the mix-tape metaphor to what initially seems to be the slow jam of the record, “There will be Tears.” However, Ocean quickly shatters that notion, dropping a savvy electronic beat to galvanize this emotionally charged ballad. And from here on Nostalgia, Ultra is just right on point. The next track is wet, literally, as Ocean cruises out into the waves of the Pacific to another infectious hit, “Swim Good.”
After the bashful love anthem “Dust,” Frank Ocean takes on the Eagles infamous track “Hotel California,” in a full rendition titled “American Wedding.” Introducing the number while sparking a J, Ocean comically criticizes America’s love culture in the 21st century.
Nostalgia, Ultra, wraps up with “Nature Feels,” another cover, this time of MGMT’s “Electric Feel.” Ending on this note is a brilliant move, as anyone who ever heard MGMT’s version when it first came out experiences some nostalgia every time the song is played. Plus, it’s a great cover. Ocean revamps this track as the ultimate way to get groovy in the bedroom. With temperatures rising, Nostalgia, Ultra comes to an end, and I’m caught up in the fever until his next release.
– Lucy White