Channel Orange

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Channel Orange
Studio album by Frank Ocean
Released July 10, 2012 (2012-07-10)
Recorded 2011–12
EastWest Studio, Henson Recording Studios, Record Plant
(Hollywood, California)
Westlake Recording Studios, Studio for the Talented & Gifted
(Los Angeles, California)
San Ysidro
(Beverly Hills, California)
Manhattan Sound Recording
(New York, New York)
Genre PBR&B, neo soul
Length 62:18
Label Def Jam
Producer Frank Ocean, Malay, Om'mas Keith, Pharrell Williams
Frank Ocean chronology
Nostalgia, Ultra
(2011)
Channel Orange
(2012)
Singles from Channel Orange
  1. "Thinkin Bout You"
    Released: April 17, 2012 (2012-04-17)
  2. "Pyramids"
    Released: June 8, 2012 (2012-06-08)
  3. "Sweet Life"
    Released: July 6, 2012 (2012-07-06)
  4. "Lost"
    Released: December 17, 2012 (2012-12-17)
  5. "Super Rich Kids"
    Released: March 17, 2013 (2013-03-17)

Channel Orange (stylized as channel ORANGE) is the debut studio album of American recording artist Frank Ocean, released on July 10, 2012, by Def Jam Recordings. After releasing his 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, Ocean began writing the album with creative partner Malay, who assisted him with its recording at EastWest Studio in Hollywood. Rather than rely on samples as he had on his mixtape, Ocean wanted to approach sound and song structure differently on Channel Orange. He titled the album as a reference to the neurological phenomenon grapheme–color synesthesia and the color he perceived during the summer he first fell in love.

Channel Orange has an unconventional musical style, film-inspired segue tracks, and songs that draw on electro-funk, pop-soul, jazz-funk, and psychedelic music. Ocean's songwriting touches on themes such as unrequited love, decadence, class, and drugs through the use of surrealistic imagery, conversational devices, and descriptive narratives depicting dark characters. His baritone singing on the album exhibits free-form flow and alternating falsetto and tenor registers.

To prevent it from leaking onto the Internet, Ocean released the album digitally one week earlier than its publicly announced date. He promoted it with five singles, including his highest charting single "Thinkin Bout You", and a supporting tour in July 2012. Channel Orange debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and sold 131,000 copies in its first week. It received rave reviews from music critics and was named the best album of the year by numerous publications. As of September 2014, the album has sold 621,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Background[edit]

Frustrated with Def Jam Recordings' inactivity in his recording career, Ocean released his debut mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra online for free in February 2011.[1] It showcased Ocean's original tracks, repurposed songs by other recording acts,[2] and featured musical and lyrical elements unconventional in R&B.[3] Although it lacked conventional promotion, the mixtape attained a following among listeners and received critical acclaim.[1] Ocean and Def Jam subsequently mended their relationship,[1] and although a contracted edition of Nostalgia, Ultra never materialized, the label released two of its songs as singles, including the Billboard charting "Novacane".[4] They subsequently agreed to release a tentative follow-up album for 2012.[1]

In June 2012,[4] news outlets and music journalists from pre-release listening events for Channel Orange raised questions about certain songs' lyrics and Ocean's sexuality.[5][6] The lyrics addressed a male object of love and deviated from the heterosexual perspective of his past songs.[5] Scrapping his original plan of including it in the album's liner notes,[7] Ocean published a TextEdit file as an open letter through his Tumblr blog on July 4.[8] Originally written in December 2011, it recounted his unrequited feelings for a man when he was 19 years old, citing the experience as his first love.[8] Ocean's disclosure was received with support from Def Jam and praise from other recording artists and cultural commentators.[5] He also remarked on writing Channel Orange after years of emotional struggle with the experience, stating in the letter, "I wrote to keep myself busy and sane. I wanted to create worlds that were rosier than mine. I tried to channel overwhelming emotions."[8]

Writing and development[edit]

Ocean mused over past experiences and pure fantasy when writing the album.[9]

Ocean started writing songs for Channel Orange in February 2011 with songwriter and producer Malay, his friend and creative partner since their start in the music industry as songwriters.[10][11] They originally met in Atlanta and worked for the same publishing company, through which they reconnected after Malay moved to Los Angeles.[10] Ocean started hanging out with Malay, introduced him to his Odd Future collective, and connected creatively through their respective songwriting, which led to their partnership for Channel Orange.[10] For the album, Ocean wrote his lyrics to complement Malay's ideas for the music.[10] Occasionally, they wrote songs together by improvising musical ideas from Malay's keyboard and guitar playing.[10]

Although he had creative freedom for both projects, Ocean felt more confident as a songwriter for Channel Orange and typed his lyrics on a laptop rather than composing in his head as he had done for Nostalgia, Ultra.[12] Since transitioning from writing for other artists, he had been influenced by his "gloriously painful love life" when writing songs.[13] For his lyrics, Ocean used both his past personal experiences and imagination to compose narratives for songs.[9] He was inspired to write the song "Crack Rock" by stories he heard sitting in on Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups mentored by his grandfather, who also dealt with substance abuse in his youth.[9] In an interview for The Guardian, Ocean expressed uncertainty about his penchant for darker subject matter, but speculated that "those were the colours I had to work with on those days. ... I mean, 'experience' is an interesting word. I just bear witness."[9]

During their writing sessions, Malay noticed Ocean's use of gender pronouns in his lyrics, but attributed it to his poetic license rather than sexuality.[10] In an interview after Ocean's open letter, Malay characterized him as "the new hybrid of what an MC used to be in the '80s or '90s ... the true storyteller" and said of the lyrics, "I don't think anyone during any given point during the creative process knew what was happening ... [W]hen he's singing maybe from a female perspective or whatever, it's a story, it's a world that he created. It's not necessarily his personal—like something that he’s experiencing. Maybe it is and it's a metaphor the way he did it".[10] They finished writing Channel Orange in two to three months.[10] Ocean said of the album's development in an interview for Rap-Up, "It succinctly defines me as an artist for where I am right now and that was the aim. It's about the stories. If I write 14 stories that I love, then the next step is to get the environment of music around it to best envelop the story and all kinds of sonic goodness."[14]

Recording[edit]

Ocean recorded most of the album at EastWest Studio (control room pictured).

Once the songs were written, Ocean ordered them into what ultimately became the album's track listing and began recording them in that order.[10] He recorded most of the album at EastWest Studio in Hollywood, near where he was renting a home at the time.[13] The studio complex featured recording equipment from the 1960s.[13] Other recording locations included Henson Recording Studios and the Record Plant in Hollywood, Westlake Recording Studios and Studio for the Talented & Gifted in Los Angeles, Manhattan Sound Recording in New York City, and San Ysidro in Beverly Hills.[15] He originally planned to rent recording equipment and the Beverly Hills mansion alone rather than rent a studio for $1,600 a day.[16] He had a maid at the mansion and enjoyed amenities such as a pool and a sauna, but ended up recording only three songs there—"Lost", "Pyramids", and "Analog 2", a collaboration with fellow Odd Future member Tyler, The Creator.[16]

Ocean recorded his vocals alone for several months, striving intensively for high performance standards, before rejoining Malay for the album's production.[10] Ocean produced most of Channel Orange and was assisted by Malay,[11] who also played guitar, bass, keyboards, and brass instruments.[15] He described his own contributions as "behind the scenes" to Ocean's "diligent" work ethic.[10] Ocean wanted to experiment sonically and approach song structure differently than he had before.[17] For inspiration, he and Malay listened to older records to either use as musical references or set a mood at the studio, listening to music by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Sly and the Family Stone, Pink Floyd, and Jimi Hendrix.[10] They also put up posters of Pink Floyd and Bruce Lee, and projected inaudible old movies in the studio's background.[18]

Their production also emphasized instrumentation and was a departure for Ocean after Nostalgia, Ultra's reliance on samples.[11] In the studio, they reworked the musical ideas from their writing sessions, incorporated live production, and ornamented their songs musically.[10] Ocean enlisted Los Angeles-based producer Om'mas Keith to help him rework the songs. They added live drums to "Crack Rock", "Monks", and "Sweet Life", which was originally produced as a digital track.[18] Originally written by Ocean for singer Bridget Kelly, "Thinkin Bout You" had been recorded as an early take by him and posted on his Tumblr account in July.[19][20] Ocean and Malay's final mix of the song for the album added a strings intro.[21] For "Bad Religion", engineer Jeff Ellis tried to compensate for the few string players they had by arranging seating for a large string section in EastWest's Studio 1 and using a pair of old stereo ribbon microphones to capture the sound. They sat players in different seats each time they played along with the track in order to mix all of the takes together and give the impression of a larger ensemble.[18]

In the wake of Nostalgia, Ultra, other artists took interest in Ocean and contacted him about working together, leading to collaborations on Channel Orange.[10] He previewed songs at different stages of completion to get feedback from guest artists, some of whom he cited as his "creative heroes",[7] including record producer Pharrell,[10] who co-wrote and co-produced "Sweet Life" with Ocean.[22] Ocean and Malay previewed songs to rock musician John Mayer, which inspired his guitar playing for both "Pyramids" and "White".[10] For the latter track, they used the instrumental of the song of the same name from Odd Future's 2012 album The OF Tape Vol. 2, recorded atmospheric instrumentation by Mayer and other musicians, and tracked it to the original instrumental.[10] Ocean reached out to rappers André 3000 and Big Boi of hip hop duo OutKast to appear on "Pink Matter". However, André 3000 did not want to reunite with Big Boi as a duo on another artist's album.[23] The former ended up rapping alone and playing guitar on the song.[13] Ocean told him to tell any kind of story with his verse for "Pink Matter", of which André 3000 later said, "when I got the track, I just started writing to it and I was just, I'm just happy to be a part of that whole movement and his whole movement because he has become a whole 'nother kind of icon in today's age."[24]

Post-production[edit]

The album's post-production lasted into July 2012.[12] Ocean and Malay mixed Channel Orange at Studio for the Talented & Gifted, and engineer Spike Stent mixed parts of the album at The Mix Suite in Los Angeles.[15] It was mastered by Vlado Meller at Masterdisk in New York City.[15] Malay said that he and Ocean focused on sonic "intricacies" such as interludes and skits on tracks when mixing the album, which he referred to as their "art project".[10] Ocean said that he admires "the anonymity that directors can have about their films" and explained his use of interludes on the album, saying that "the work is the work. The work is not me ... Even though it's my voice, I'm a storyteller."[13]

According to Malay, Kanye West helped Ocean during the album's final stages by providing "a mentorship situation where it's like, 'This record is amazing. It's incredible. Let me help you out in other ways. Let me connect you with my visual people' and just having that cosign and that support."[10] Malay recalled in an interview for Complex how he and Ocean were "somewhat oblivious to how quickly everything happened" as they were finishing the album and said that Ocean's name was "continuing to get bigger and bigger."[10] To downplay himself from being "the focal point" of the album, Ocean did not want his name on the cover and had Everest, his Bernese Mountain Dog, credited as the executive producer instead.[13]

Ocean titled the album as a reference to grapheme–color synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which an individual's perception of numbers and letters is associated with the experience of colors.[25] He discussed the phenomenon with Pharrell, who had also experienced it and similarly referenced it for the title of his side project N.E.R.D's 2008 album Seeing Sounds.[25] West also experienced it as a youth and used it as an inspiration when creating his short film Cruel Summer in 2012.[26] The title also alludes to the first time that Ocean fell in love, as it was summer and he perceived everything to be orange. Ocean's mother called it "a perfect summertime album" after attending a listening session.[25]

Music[edit]

Channel Orange has an unconventional musical style,[27] with influences from psychedelic,[28] pop-soul,[29] jazz-funk,[30] and electro-funk genres.[31] Spin magazine's Barry Walters viewed it as part of a second wave of PBR&B releases,[32] while Evan Rytlewski of The A.V. Club called it a neo soul album.[33] Sputnikmusic's Sobhi Youssef remarked that, although its production "pull[s] from a spectrum of popular modern and classic influences", they are used "within the 'constraints' of R&B without any singular genre taking over the record."[34] Songs on the album are characterized by electronic keyboard, muted percussion,[35] fluctuating backing tracks,[36] shifting synthesizers,[28] vamps, vibrant guitar,[13] and hazy electronic effects such as dub reverb.[36] Tiny Mix Tapes wrote that first half's "spacious" production recalls the "electric soul influence" of Shuggie Otis,[37] while Jody Rosen observed "chord changes straight out of [Stevie] Wonder's Innervisions, airy vamps that nod to [Marvin] Gaye's Here, My Dear, [and] snarling guitars that recall Prince's Purple Rain".[38] Chris Richards of The Washington Post compared its melodic sensibilities to those of Gaye and Wonder, and its loose song structures to those of D'Angelo, Maxwell, and Erykah Badu.[39] Time magazine's Melissa Locker noted melodramatic elements such as "haunting melodies" similar to The-Dream's 2007 album Love Hate.[27]

Less melodic and hook-oriented than Nostalgia, Ultra,[35] Channel Orange has soft melodies, gentle articulation,[40] spatial arrangements,[41] and mid-tempo drum beats,[28] although the more ruminative songs feature slower tempos.[4] Robert Christgau asserted that, without its predecessor's reliance on samples, "Ocean resists making a show of himself—resists the dope hook, the smart tempo, the transcendent falsetto itself."[42] Ocean, a baritone,[43] sings with casually expressive vocals,[4] free-form flow,[44] conversational crooning,[45] and alternating falsetto and tenor registers.[11] Similar to Nostalgia, Ultra,[46] Channel Orange has interludes that feature sounds of organs, waves, tape decks,[27] car doors,[47] channel surfing, white noise,[48] and dialogue.[49] They exhibit an analog sound quality, and some end abruptly.[19] Writers interpreted them to represent the limited attention span of listeners,[48] moments in Ocean's life,[41] the distortion inside his mind,[50] nostalgic ephemera,[51] or a synesthesia-inspired theme.[37] Jesse Cataldo of Slant Magazine viewed that the segues, along with the other songs' disparate lengths, give the album the feel of a mixtape.[51]

Lyrics and themes[edit]

The songs are confessional yet guarded, alive to all sorts of musical and lyrical possibilities, working in a number of genres within the space of a single composition, alert to both dream imagery and realistic observations of the world around him. As a Hollywood transplant, Frank Ocean is into make-believe – and the question of how you create and deconstruct make-believe.

Ken Tucker, NPR[52]

Channel Orange has themes of unrequited love,[33] sex,[3] and existential longing.[51] Allusions to Ocean's own experience with unrequited love are featured in several songs,[53] including "Thinkin Bout You", "Bad Religion", and "Forrest Gump".[36] Jon Caramanica of The New York Times found the album to be "rife with the sting of unrequited love, both on the receiving and inflicting ends", with "lovers who tantalize but remain at arm's length."[13] Ryan Dombal of Pitchfork Media wrote that Ocean exhibits "a timeless philosophy ... one of hard-won acceptance and the acknowledgement that love and sex and loss will always draw legends to them."[19]

The album also explores decadence,[9] the trappings of class disparity,[27] drug dependency,[6] and the tension between spirituality and secularity, a prevalent theme in soul music.[35] Music journalist Sasha Frere-Jones noted "a combination of decadence and spiritual ache similar to Prince's".[54] Greg Kot wrote that Ocean presents "a dialogue between his self-gratifying lust and more selfless conscience", with Prince-like "psychedelic-gospel inflections" and Marvin Gaye-like overdubbing of Ocean's vocals, which give the impression of voices in conversation with one another.[35] Jason Lipshutz of Billboard viewed that Ocean examines love in the context of money, drugs, and sex.[3]

Ocean's songwriting uses descriptive narratives,[39] dense metre,[41] surrealistic imagery, empathic sentiments, deadpan humor,[19] overt metaphors,[50] and conversational devices.[13] John Calvert of The Quietus wrote that his lyrics treat love as "innocent", and feature "flying-as-love" metaphors and "respectful euphemisms" for sex such as a flight on a "fighter jet".[11] Embling of Tiny Mix Tapes regarded Channel Orange as a "songwriter's album" and views that, although "the emotions, mood, and melodies are broad enough to draw listeners in", Ocean's lyrics are "apocryphal, allowing for personal interpretations".[37] Ocean's narratives generally depict dark,[36] broken characters,[13] and a Southern California setting,[35] with references to its sunny, coastal environment in both the lyrics and melodies.[11][30] Randall Roberts of the Los Angeles Times categorized Channel Orange as a concept album about "the twentysomething experience in Los Angeles",[41] while Greg Kot interpreted the California setting to be "a state of mind in Ocean['s] world: numb, deceptively luxurious and self-satisfied, where the denizens live disconnected from one another and the world."[35]

Songs[edit]

The polyphonic song features faded synths, sweeping strings,[55] and percussion buried in the mix.[3] It is composed as a character sketch of a young parent,[56] who sings his infant daughter to sleep.[38]

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The opening track "Start" is a snippet of ambient sounds,[35] bits of silence, and flickers of noise,[3] including a PlayStation booting up.[34] The low-key torch song "Thinkin Bout You" features soothing synth cycles,[11] sparse keyboards,[35] muffled electronic percussion,[38] and lyrics addressing a lover with white lies in the verses and thoughts of eternal love in the chorus.[11][19] "Fertilizer" is based on James Fauntleroy II's 2010 song of the same name,[37] repurposed on the album as an AM radio jingle and interlude about "bullshit".[3] "Sierra Leone" incorporates chillwave and quiet storm styles, wind chime sounds, lo-fi beats,[11] and polyphony similar to Prince's 1985 song "Paisley Park".[57] Its lyrics address sex, conception, early parenthood,[56] and childhood dreams.[3] It recounts the narrator's lust for a girl as a teenager,[41] and compares their relationship to the vicissitudes of Sierra Leone such as diamonds and civil war.[58] Ocean's singing exhibits quickly descending chord succession and is overdubbed against his spoken vocals.[3][11]

"Sweet Life" and "Super Rich Kids" depict decadent,[35] alluring rich people,[13] and are tied together by "Not Just Money", a spoken interlude with a woman discussing the importance of money on happiness.[3] "Super Rich Kids" references the thumping piano line of Elton John's 1973 song "Bennie and the Jets" and addresses young, wealthy characters' ennui and fears of the financial crisis with dry humor.[36][59] "Pilot Jones" employs magic realism and escapist imagery,[11] and depicts an emotional dependency between drug addicts, who confuse friendship with sexual love in their support of each other.[60] The swooning song contains hazy electronic blips,[3][4] impressionistic textures, experimental beat patterns, refracted sound effects, and vocal improvisation expressing the narrator's "high".[56] "Crack Rock" depicts a crack addict,[36] likens love to the highs and lows of drug use,[50] and broadly addresses corruption, broken homes, gun violence,[3] and government indifference to rising crack-related deaths.[11] It has fleeting multi-tracked harmonies,[39] a non-sequitur chorus,[11] and Ocean's occasionally fractured breathiness conveying an addict's voice.[9]

"Pyramids" is cited by writers as the album's centerpiece.[3][11][35] Brice Ezell of PopMatters wrote that it denotes "the vital midpoint of the overarching narrative", where "the wittier tone of the record's front half gives way to an emotionally dense second half."[59] Veering from synth-funk to slow jam styles,[36] the song has a lyrical conceit that uses Ancient Egyptian and Biblical imagery,[59] and contrasts the legendary fall of Cleopatra VII with the circumstances of a latter-day working girl,[3][36] who dances at a strip club called the Pyramid to support her man's gaudy aspirations.[3][61] The new wave-styled "Lost" is about a perplexed addict,[55] who hopes for a better life for him and his drug-cooking girlfriend.[35][36] "Monks", a funk rock song,[60] is about finding nirvana and deals with topics such as casual sex and devout religion in a narrative that shifts from an exciting concert to a metaphorical jungle.[3][45] "Bad Religion" features melodramatic, orchestral music and a series of figures, including strings, handclaps, marching band snare drums,[54] and mournful organ chords.[35] The lyrics follow an emotional confession to a taxi driver by a narrator brooding over a secretive intimate relationship.[36] Music journalist Alexis Petridis asserted that the song "repurpos[es] the battle between religion and lust that's been at the heart of soul music since it ceded from gospel".[36]

The confessional song incorporates gospel and baroque pop styles,[62] and string dynamics corresponding to Ocean's vocal intonation.[54] His lyrics touch on the conflict between pleasure and godliness, a common trope in R&B.[60]

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"Pink Matter" is a bluesy lament with themes of sex and betrayal,[38] as its narrator struggles between pleasure and universal meaning.[3] Its lyrics allude to philosophical conundrums, extraterrestrial life, Japanese manga comics,[38] and cotton candy.[29] The playful "Forrest Gump" likens the titular film character to an adolescent crush,[3] with homoerotic, tongue-in-cheek lyrics,[11] and allusions to scenes in the film.[21] It has a bright, Motown-inspired chorus,[63] a simple rhythmic cadence, gently strummed guitar, wistful vocals, and a perkily whistled coda.[11] The skit "End" depicts an exchange between Ocean and a woman as they make love in the backseat of a car with his 2012 song "Voodoo" playing over the stereo. She says to him, "You're special. I wish you could see what I see", repurposing a line from the 2006 film ATL, and Ocean leaves the car in response, walks home through the rain, and sets his keys down with a sigh.[64] The lighthearted, lovelorn "Golden Girl" has up-tempo synths,[65] gradual fades,[66] and Tyler, The Creator rapping in a low-pitched, demonic voice.[67] It is about a girl that provides salvation and peace of mind for the narrator, who likens her to an island.[68]

Release and promotion[edit]

Retail giant Target refused to stock the album in response to its preemptive release.

To prevent it from leaking onto the Internet, Ocean planned to release Channel Orange digitally one week earlier than its publically announced date.[7] He was inspired by Jay-Z and Kanye West, who prevented their 2011 album Watch the Throne from leaking by announcing several misleading release dates.[7] On June 8, Ocean announced a July 17 release date and released a trailer for the album directed by Nabil Elderkin.[69] On July 9, he made his television debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and performed "Bad Religion" with backing from the show's house band The Roots and a strings section.[70] The album's actual release date and vendor were announced during the show.[71]

Released by Def Jam and distributed by Universal Music Group,[72] Channel Orange was made available on July 10 as a digital download exclusively on iTunes.[73] The digital store was its sole vendor through July 17, when it was released to other digital retailers.[74] Ocean said of the release strategy in an interview with Zane Lowe on July 12, "I haven't even held one in my hands ... The [CDs] are done, but when we sent them in, they were locked down at the manufacturer. They haven't left. They never went on trucks [to stores] because that's where things leak."[75]

Although its wide physical release was scheduled for July 17,[76] Universal encouraged physical retailers to start selling it immediately after they receive shipments of the album.[72] However, retail company Target did not approve of its early release to iTunes and chose not to stock the album. Ocean's manager Christian Clancy responded in a message on Twitter that he found it "interesting" that Target "also donate[s] to non-equal rights organizations". Target dismissed such "claims" as "absolutely false" in a subsequent statement to MTV News, saying that it "supports inclusivity and diversity in every aspect of our business. Our assortment decisions are based on a number of factors, including guest demand."[77]

Commercial performance[edit]

Channel Orange debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and sold 131,000 copies in its first week.[78] The majority of its first-week sales were digital copies from iTunes, while approximately 3,000 of the sales were physical copies.[78] However, digital copies sold for $2.99 at Amazon.com were excluded from Nielsen SoundScan's sales data, as Billboard's chart policy disqualifies albums sold for less than $3.49 from charting.[79] The album sold 54,000 copies in its second week, excluding discounted copies sold by Amazon.com, which Billboard estimated to be approximately 15,000 copies.[80] In the United Kingdom, Channel Orange debuted at number two on the UK Albums Chart and sold 13,000 copies in its first week.[81] It was the first album there to chart within the top 20 based solely on digital sales.[82] In Canada, the album debuted at number three on the Canadian Albums Chart on first-week sales of 6,700 copies.[83] It reached its highest overall charting in Norway,[84] where it entered at number one.[85]

Five singles were released from the album—"Thinkin Bout You" on April 17,[86] "Pyramids" on June 8,[87] "Sweet Life" on July 6,[2] "Lost" on December 17,[88] and "Super Rich Kids" on March 17, 2013.[89] "Thinkin Bout You" was Ocean's highest charting single in the United States, peaking at number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100.[90] Ocean performed the song on the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards on September 6, 2012.[91] After his appearance at the show, Channel Orange jumped 24 spots on the Billboard 200 and sold approximately 14,000 copies.[92] On September 15, he performed both "Thinkin Bout You" and "Pyramids" as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live, accompanied by John Mayer on guitar.[93] On January 30, Channel Orange was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).[94] By September 2014, it had sold 621,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.[95]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4.5/5 stars[4]
The A.V. Club A[33]
Robert Christgau A–[42]
The Guardian 5/5 stars[36]
The Independent 4/5 stars[57]
NME 7/10[55]
Pitchfork Media 9.5/10[19]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[38]
Slant Magazine 4.5/5 stars[51]
Spin 9/10[49]

Channel Orange received rave reviews from contemporary music critics.[96] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 92, which indicates "universal acclaim", based on 46 reviews.[97] AllMusic's Andy Kellman wrote that Ocean's "descriptive and subtle storytelling is taken to a higher level" than on Nostalgia, Ultra and equated him as a songwriter to Bilal.[4] Mike Powell of Spin found Ocean's tempered singing to be a sign of "exceptional wisdom and repose".[49] Ken Tucker of NPR viewed that the musical and lyrical details in Ocean's "portraits of L.A. landscapes" and "dives deeper inside his head" result in a work more worldly than those of his contemporaries.[52] Fintan Walsh of State felt that the album "challenges pop culture’s modern nature" with lyrics "as relative to the modern youth as was Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds in 1966", and called it "a masterful, dynamic and evocative collection of conversations between [Ocean's] inner-self and the listener."[98]

Killian Fox of The Observer dubbed the album "an expansive, slow-burning classic that repays patience and close attention".[46] Alexis Petridis of The Guardian called it a "brilliant, beautiful album" and its production "impressively idiosyncratic".[36] Laurence Green of musicOMH praised its music as "a cherry-picking of life's cacophony repainted into the most enchanting of collages."[99] Evan Rytlewski of The A.V. Club cited it as "the latest in a line of revelatory, late-period neo-soul albums, channeling the skewed jazz of Bilal's Airtight's Revenge, the impish sprawl of Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Part Two, and the dovelike grace of Maxwell's BLACKsummers'night into a work that's every bit as exquisitely individualistic as all three."[33] Slant Magazine's Jesse Cataldo called it a "mosaic work ... so textured, complex, and mature that Ocean's recent coming out feels like a footnote".[51]

Although he called it "very good", Brice Ezell of PopMatters still found Nostalgia, Ultra to be "Ocean's true debut."[59] Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone felt that Ocean occasionally is "less a songwriter than a purveyor of formless grooves" and argued that the songs with more rigid structures "have startling force."[38] Priya Elan of NME wrote that the "inventive and spirited" album is "prone to overindulgence but shows a rare talent coming to terms with his ambition," which "lies on the right side of indulgence."[55] MSN Music's Robert Christgau was ambivalent about the album's "demimonde" narratives, but found its "musical craft" more "even-keeled" than on Nostalgia, Ultra and quipped, "the verbal content rules."[42] Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker commented that it "never feels crowded, because Ocean's aesthetic favors his lyrics" and stated, "Channel Orange reinvigorates R. & B. by flouting the rules of the genre."[54]

Accolades[edit]

Channel Orange appeared on numerous critics' year-end top albums lists. It was named the best album of 2012 by The A.V. Club, Billboard, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Consequence of Sound, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, musicOMH, The Sydney Morning Herald, Now, Paste, PopMatters, Slant Magazine, Spin, The Washington Post, and Jon Pareles of The New York Times. The album was also ranked number two by Allmusic, Ann Powers, BBC, Complex, Exclaim!, Filter, Mojo, Pitchfork Media, and Rolling Stone, number three by Clash, Jim DeRogatis, NME, State, and Time, and number five by Uncut.[100] In his top-10 list for the Los Angeles Times, Lawrence K. Ho called it "the most magnetic record of the year" and wrote that it "feels like a work that as the years pass will only grow in stature."[101]

Channel Orange was named "Album of the Year" by HMV's Poll of Polls, an annual survey of UK critics and music writers from national print and online publications.[102] It was voted as the best album of 2012 in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll. In an essay for the poll, the newspaper's Eric Sundermann mused that "no one is surprised" as Ocean "dominated most music discussions this past year" and had an equalizing effect on listeners of all music genres.[103] Metacritic cited it as both the "top-ranked" and "best-reviewed major album" of 2012, as well as "one of the best-reviewed albums of the past decade".[104]

Channel Orange won the Album of the Year award at the 2012 Soul Train Music Awards.[105] The album also earned Ocean nominations for the 2013 Grammy Awards in the categories of Album of the Year, Best New Artist, and Record of the Year for "Thinkin Bout You".[106] It won a Grammy Award for Best Urban Contemporary Album.[107] Ocean agreed to perform at the awards show only if they let him play the song he wanted,[18] "Forrest Gump".[108]

Tour[edit]

Ocean performing at Lollapalooza on August 4, 2012

Ocean supported the album with a 14-date North American tour during July 2012.[69] Announced on June 8,[109] the tour had sold out by July 9.[110] On its number of shows, Ocean explained that he wanted to provide quality over quantity and said that "it's not about let's do a million things right now. It's about let's just do our best to do the best things right now."[17] Malay joined him as the tour's musical director and said that it would expand on the production of Ocean's previous concerts for Nostalgia, Ultra.[10] Their stage setup featured a guitarist, bassist, drummer, two pianos, and a DJ setup behind television monitor props,[111] which showed ever-changing images.[112]

Along with songs from Nostalgia, Ultra and Channel Orange, Ocean performed "Made in America", his unreleased songs "Summer Remains" and "Voodoo", and covers of Prince's "When You Were Mine" (1980), Beyoncé Knowles' "I Miss You" (2011),[113] and Sade's "By Your Side" (2000).[114][115] Reviewers of the shows noted Ocean's low-key stage presence and observed crowd screams and audience members singing-along to songs.[115][116][117] After his performance at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., Ocean reflected on the tour and wrote on his Twitter account, "This tourlife takes some getting used to. I get to zone out and be someones hero or deviant fantasy or whatever for a hour and some change every night though. That's special, and the women still scream in the front row."[114] Ocean cancelled his tour-closing show at Saint Andrew's Hall in Detroit on August 1 due to illness.[118]

After the tour, Ocean was slated to perform at several music festivals,[16] including Lollapalooza, where he headlined the second day of the festival.[119] However, during his performance at Øyafestivalen in Norway, Ocean lost his voice and ended his set early.[120] He subsequently withdrew from his European tour dates,[121] including English rock band Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto Tour,[122] on which he would have been the opening act during the tour's European leg in August and September.[16][123] Although he did not specify his reason, Ocean issued a statement to organizers of the Way Out West Festival in Sweden, saying that "Let me start by saying I feel like an asshole right now, but a tough decision had to be made in regard to my schedule over the next months ... Sorry as fuck, I'll be back if you'll have me."[122] He subsequently performed at All Tomorrow's Parties in New York City on September 21.[124]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Start"   Christopher Breaux, James Ryan Ho 0:46
2. "Thinkin Bout You"   Breaux, Shea Taylor 3:22
3. "Fertilizer"   James Fauntleroy, Reginal Perry 0:40
4. "Sierra Leone"   Breaux, Ho 2:29
5. "Sweet Life"   Breaux, Pharrell Williams 4:23
6. "Not Just Money"   Rosie Watson 1:00
7. "Super Rich Kids" (featuring Earl Sweatshirt) Breaux, Roy Hammond, Ho, Thebe Kgositsile, Mark Morales, Kirk Robinson, Nat Robinson Jr., Mark C. Rooney[A] 5:05
8. "Pilot Jones"   Breaux, Taylor 3:04
9. "Crack Rock"   Breaux, Ho 3:44
10. "Pyramids"   Breaux, Ho 9:53
11. "Lost"   Breaux, Ho, Micah Otano 3:54
12. "White" (featuring John Mayer) Breaux, Tyler Okonma 1:16
13. "Monks"   Breaux, Ho 3:20
14. "Bad Religion"   Breaux, Monte Neuble 2:55
15. "Pink Matter" (featuring André 3000) André Benjamin, Breaux, Ho 4:29
16. "Forrest Gump"   Breaux, Ho 3:15
17. "End/Golden Girl" (featuring Tyler, The Creator) Breaux, Ho, Okonma, Williams[B] 8:43
Notes[15]
  • ^[A] "Super Rich Kids" contains an interpolation of "Real Love", written by Mark Morales, Mark C. Rooney, Kirk Robinson, Nat Robinson Jr., and Roy Hammond.
  • "Lost" contains dialogue from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
  • "Pink Matter" contains an audio clip from The Last Dragon.
  • ^[B] "End" was written by Christopher Breaux and James Ryan Ho, and "Golden Girl" was written by Breaux, Tyler Okonma, and Pharrell Williams.[125]
  • "Golden Girl" begins at 3:44;[126] it is excluded from track 17 of the iTunes digital release.[127]

Personnel[edit]

Credits for Channel Orange adapted from liner notes.[15]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Australia (ARIA)[144] Gold 35,000^
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[145] Gold 10,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[146] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[94] Gold 500,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Region Date Label Format
Worldwide (iTunes exclusive)[72] July 10, 2012 Def Jam Recordings digital download
Sweden[147] July 16, 2012 CD
United Kingdom[148] Mercury Records
Canada[149] July 17, 2012 Def Jam
Germany[150] Island Records
United States[151] Def Jam
Worldwide[72] digital download
Netherlands[152] July 19, 2012 Island CD
Australia[153] July 23, 2012 Universal Music Group
France[154]
United States[155] TBA[120] Def Jam LP

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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