Albums of the week

Bumper week for albums, containing one modern classic-already.

Frank Ocean – ‘Channel Orange’ [Def Jam]

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“Taxi driver / Be my shrink for the hour/ Leave the meter running / It’s rush hour / So take the streets if you wanna / Just outrun the demons, could you / He said “Allahu akbar”, I told him don’t curse me / “Bo bo you need prayer”, I guess it couldn’t hurt me / But if it brings me to my knees / It’s a bad religion” Frank sings on Bad Religion. It’s a gorgeous line delivered perfectly. The following verse ends with the line ““I could never make him love me.” Two weeks ago, it would have been surprising to hear from a male singer of R&B, or, let’s be real, most genres,. It’s still astounding to hear, and will be for all time, I imagine, long after this last chapter of the civil rights era is happily in the past, where homophobia will only embarrass those who lived through it without protest.

It’s an album about brittle, crunched emotions, 21st century ways of loving, and living, with a production and melody somewhere between depleted and lush, and, despite being astoundingly short on radio-friendly singles, contains some of the most wonderfully fluent examples of songwriting of the era. Like Julia Holter’s ‘Ekstasis’, another year-highlight album by an LA-indebted singer-songwriter, succeeds absolutely in finding a shining form of 21st-century folk modernism from the classic pop of the 20th century. But if Holter is this year’s literary romantic, Frank is our epic realist. He sings of class, greed, the depleted air of long-haul travel, screens, cowardliness, and the eternal tragedy of love unreciprocated. And he does this, to repeat, with some of the best songwriting of the era, using glances of everything from prog rock to psyche soul to modern rap to illustrate his humane, calm tales of people hard of luck and soft of heart.

“We used to have things in common / Now the only thing we share is the refrigerator / You’re the dealer and the stoner with the sweetest kiss I’ve ever known” goes one of many great lines of ‘Channel Orange’. Three weeks ago, we were expecting this album with eager trepidation, because Frank Ocean’s staggering talent alone suggests he could quite seriously deserve a place with the Marvins and the Stevies and the Michaels. After that beautiful Tumblr post, this album’s task is even bigger – to represent a watershed year in the gay rights movement. The lyric that began this review is an indication of Frank’s acute eye for the sad harmony of the modern condition, and his sheer, staggering talent is such that it leaves baggage with the handlers he flies so far above. For this is a great album, by a great man, with a soaring soul more than the equal of these moving times. Listen, closely, and gratefully. [CRJ]
Stream the album via his Tumblr

Gatekeeper – ‘Exo’ [Hippos In Tanks]
Gatekeeper’s debut album comes after two camp EPs about horror music. ‘Optimus Maximus’ [Fright] and ‘Giza’ [Merok] used, respectively hard disco and EBM to create nightmarish worlds, the cinematic scope of which was underlined by a series of incredible, arch clips by visual collaborators Thunder Horse Video. ‘Exo’, their first album, arrives with outside-the-music gumf of a different order – it’s also a Tabor Robak-designed font and “first-person gaming environment”, with artwork suggesting near future sci-fi fim, where air-locked installations barely keep the jungle outside at bay, as well as a totally great album. The music has moved a stage on, too – it’s dry, cold, tiny, really clever and ever so slightly unpleasant, a bit like air-conditioned air. Or the internet, come to think of it. So, in conclusion, it’s like the internet, in that it’s totally awesome, and created by guys who probably had a massive crush on Dana Scully. Terrific work, really. [CRJ]

Cooly G – ‘Playin Me’ [Hyperdub]
At the recent Hyperdub showcase at Koko here in London, a raucous night of cutting-edge electronic music that spoke on both a cerebral and corporeal level, it was south London’s Cooly G who quietly stole the show. Barefoot in a black dress, she carried herself with a gentle air of dignity and shyly charmed the crowd. Her debut album on Hyperdub is the warmest of surprises: the UK funky producer recast as a British soul artist of rare merit. While her production prowess is as intense and far-reaching as ever – instrumental It’s Serious navigates jazz terrain with startlingly dexterous delicacy – it’s the vocal tracks that really cut to the heart. A song of two halves, title track Playin Me embodies the dignity, sorrow and strength that characterises this album: the first swirling a sweet simple call over tender synths and flickering hi-hats, the second providing the backbone comeback of indignant drums and no-nonsense bass. The album’s not without edge; there’s something sinister about Sunshine, a slow-burn, skeletal dancehall framework over which Cooly’s treacle tones pour. Then there’s Trouble, the eyebrow-raising Coldplay cover that, through Cooly’s eyes, unfurls as the shining example of 21st century blues it always was. Playin Me is a truly thrilling record, and one that will no doubt find its way into many, many hearts. [RS]

FabricLive 64: Oneman
Oneman knows how to read a crowd, and a vibe. He’s the Rinse FM stalwart who’s got the balls – and inclination – to play Fleetwood Mac at Boiler Room. He’s the dude called in to play Solange Knowles’s intimate East London birthday party (and yep, Bey’n‘Jay were in attendance). And he’s the DJ who got some of the biggest Twitter props at last week’s XOYO Bloc replacement party despite sharing a bill with Flying Lotus and The Weeknd. As I said, Oneman knows how to read a crowd, and a vibe – and it’s this he demonstrates with flair on this tasty compilation for Fabric. His selections aren’t bangers, they’re builders. This mix is all about headspace and clear vision, most aptly demonstrated by SBTRKT in an introspective moment on the gorgeous 2020. Then there’s a cheeky Untitled from Pearson Sound, yet more evidence of Joy Orbison’s genius touch with bass pressure on The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow and a little Oneman special with Tuff Jam’s Ce Ce Peniston remix. He wraps things up with Burial’s Etched Headplate, which underlines with grace that this is a mix for the heads. Oneman has a rep for being the party guy but with this mix he pours his much-documented energy into building something deeper and in doing so takes an at-times quite beautiful snapshot of the UK electronic music scene in contemplative mode. [RS]
Listen to snippets on Fabric’s website

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