Review by: Eric Pember
Assigned by: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan
I hadn’t really heard Frank Ocean before now. I did like “Pyramids” because of John Mayer’s David Gilmour-esque guitar solo (which is still his only reason for existing, as far as I’m concerned), but that was about it.
I admit that I’m pretty suspicious of this type of music. It seems very calculated to appeal to those who are too smart for normal Top 40 pop, but at the same time feel distanced from truly experimental music. That also describes me relatively well (I’ve taken to calling myself a “contratarian populist” lately), and thus, I should be able to like this music.
However, I just can’t bring myself to do so. I suspect that part of it is modern production standards. I know that sounds like such a rockist thing to say, and it kinda is, but I can’t get myself not to feel that way. I know that rationally, that’s not true, since I quite like Janelle Monae and Kendrick Lamar. Then again, I’m told that both of them throw back to earlier epochs with their sound, so that’s probably why.
(I’m gonna note right now before I go further that I don’t feel like everything should sound like it did in the 1960s, as much as I like the general sound of the era. It’s just the pop production of this decade that really annoys me, somehow.)
I did start to get used to the production after a few tracks, but that’s when I unveiled another layer. Much of this album sounded like a variant on white guy with acoustic guitar (or as Todd in the Shadows calls it, WGWAG) music. It’s just that, buried underneath modernistic production and the trappings of R&B/soul music, it sounds suave enough to lure in the kind of people who’d usually be repelled by music like this.
Thankfully, after that, yet another layer peeled off and the album suddenly started showing actual potential. “Solo (Reprise)” is written and performed by Andre 3000, which is always a treat. “Pretty Sweet” then manages to build off the momentum that interlude created with some pretty clever atmospherics, which make me want to go back and listen to Channel Orange, because I’ve heard that album is full of that kind of thing.
Unfortunately, immediately after that one more layer peeled off, and the onion was revealed to be rotten from the beginning. “Pretty Sweet” is followed by a potentially-justifiable-but-probably-useless spoken word interlude about Facebook, then it unfortunately returns to the modernistic production and WIGWAG stylizations. So much for the promise the preceding two tracks showed, I guess.
The last layer then peels off, and the album just flatlines in a weird mass of Radiohead-esque emptiness that’s probably supposed to mean something, but doesn’t really add up to anything.
Sorry Star Trek II Wrath of Khan, but I can’t bring myself to like this album, although I could if more of it sounded like “Pretty Sweet”.