Frank Ocean‘s Channel ORANGE is by all accounts an R&B album, but not all of its 17 songs necessarily fall into a traditional format indicative of the genre. The GRAMMY-nominated release featured “Pyramids,” a nine-minute epic that took from club music, psychedelic rock and slow-burning R&B, not to mention a guitar solo from John Mayer. Along with other influences, including the occasional bit of electro-funk, soul, hip hop and more, Channel ORANGE was a difficult album to pinpoint from a musical standpoint.
In February, Ocean revealed he was already at work on a new album, which he called “another cohesive thing” along the lines of its predecessor. On the red carpet of the Time 100 Gala this week, he revealed that his inspiration for the new project extends to some new influences, which admittedly is not all that surprising, since with Ocean, you never really know what to expect.
“When I was making the first [album] there were a group of artists that I listened to, just for inspiration and to absorb the energies,” Ocean told MTV. “It was a lot of Stevie Wonder, and this time it’s a lot of Beach Boys and Beatles and whatnot, so we’ll see how it trickles into the music and the final product. I can’t say much other than that.”
Whether or not you’ve been waiting for a ’60s rock-influenced album from Ocean, the exciting thing about his music is that it has many aspects. So while this might be one direction he’s taking, the finished product could conceivably include a bevy of influences, some expected and some out of left field.
It may be too late to include these on his upcoming album, but here are a few musical influences we’d like to see on Ocean’s next — or any future — album.
His ArchAndroid Phase
Before Ocean burst onto the scene, another budding artist released her debut album to critical acclaim: Janelle Monae, with The ArchAndroid. The album and Channel ORANGE are similar in that they’re largely R&B and neo soul, but also take from many other influences, creating a mish-mash of styles that flow cohesively through a lengthy concept album. A Monae/Ocean collaboration would be a match made in heaven, but we’ll take an Ocean record that follows some of The ArchAndroid‘s framework — that is, something out of a futuristic James Bond flick. The album’s best song was “Cold War,” a fusion of soul and indie rock that sent the album to the stratosphere. Let’s not have Ocean replicate Monae’s album word for word and note for note, but it certainly would continue the singer’s genre-defying tendencies.
His Rustic Folk Phase
Ocean heads out into the woods, resides in a cabin alone for months, finds himself (again), returns with an intimate, minimalistic record. He’d just be following in the footsteps of Bon Iver (who like Ocean has worked with Kanye), but there’s something about Ocean that makes it seem like this could work as a blend of R&B, soul and folk. Think of his performance of “Thinkin Bout You” at the 2012 VMAs. Stripped down to just a guitar (which was played by someone else, but if he hasn’t learned, maybe he could?) while he sat in what looked lik an abandoned campground, it was one of the night’s top performances, showing that his voice could stand out on its own with minimal production behind it. Imagine a similar song played only on acoustic guitar with Ocean’s soulful, expressive vocals. It could just become the neo folk album of the year.
His Kid A Phase
Hell, let’s just let Ocean get full-on weird. Channel ORANGE could very well be Ocean’s Kid A, but there’s reason to believe the guy has even more in him, perhaps something along the lines of this famously experimental album. Between Ocean covering “Fake Plastic Trees” and sampling “Optimistic,” he’s established that he’s a Radiohead fan. Think of it like this: Kid A was the first time Radiohead incorporated electronica into its sound – an element that now defines the band. Ocean, too, played with electronic elements in “Pyramids,” and many loved the song for that very reason – so why wouldn’t he explore it a little further? Ocean already has a taste for musical sidesteps and interludes mid-album, so replicating something like “Treefingers” wouldn’t be an issue. Of all of his possible progressions, this actually seems like the most natural of the bunch. Bonus points if Nigel Godrich produces the thing.
His Maxwell Phase
As one of the elder statesmen of the neo- oul movement, Maxwell wouldn’t exactly be a major stretch for Ocean in terms of an influence — in fact, it’s already there to an extent. An entire album of Maxwell-styled tunes would still be a fairly desirable record, especially in respect to the vocals. As evidenced on “Thinkin Bout You,” Ocean does possess a sexy falsetto, though it doesn’t hold up live quite as well as Maxwell’s, hearing an album pierced by his expressive falsetto sounds very appealing indeed. Throw some Sade in there as well, and baby, he’s got a stew going.
His Big Band Phase
What could Ocean do with a horn section by his side for an entire record? Sure, he’s not the most powerful of crooners so there’s the possibility a too-large backing could swallow him up, but either used in moderation or lower in the mix, Ocean could have something that recalls the glory days of Motown. Bruno Mars is using it to the fullest effect these days, with Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience also recalling the days of yore. But Ocean seems like right guy to lead brass back in a fresh way. Borrowing the Dap-Kings from Sharon Jones wouldn’t be too crazy. Or how about some funky rhythms a la “Theme from Shaft,” kind of an Isaac Hayes vibe? Tons of possibilities here.
-Kevin Rutherford, Radio.com