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1
The 50 Best Albums of 2012

2. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

Label: Def Jam
Released: July 10

We'll never have to know how the world might've continued to react to Frank Ocean's moving admission about his first relationship if Channel Orange hadn't been as special as it is. If the album hadn't been as lush and inviting, if it hadn't been written and sung with the same candor as his letter.

We'll never have to know, but we shouldn't forget how good the day he made his post to Tumblr felt. On the East Coast, I woke up and saw the story unfolding on Twitter. A quote from Sean Fennessey flashed in my head, from his piece on Drake's "Look What You've Done": "It feels good when the biggest cultural thing in your life keeps moving forward." That morning, I felt good.

Then we all heard Channel Orange. The opening established the conceit, TV stations flicking past in the form of songs. This loose device—you can forget it's happening within a few tracks—provides an excuse for the multiplicity of narratives that are Ocean's specialty. The vivid scenes imagined in "Sierra Leone," "Super Rich Kids," "Pilot Jones," "Pyramids," "Bad Religion" (truly, I could continue, but you could always just consult the tracklist; every song makes an impression) make for a real kaleidoscope of an album.

Each spin reveals a new detail. Like how "Super Rich Kids" nods to Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up" with the party chatter barely heard beneath the music. The polyvocal TV device also allows for a variety of listeners to enter the project. It's possible to hear this album as mainstream R&B escaping the confines of heteronormativity. But if you aren't ready for that (hopefully you will be some day), just imagine a female character singing "Bad Religion." Ocean doesn't force you to hear his album one way or another.

Though the strands don't create a cohesive narrative like Kendrick Lamar did with his album, Ocean's stories fit together thematically. The glow of Channel Orange conducts the listener to a place where relationships and loss, longing for what can't last, or, in fact, might never come to pass, take center stage.

The listener is glued to the record, but that's where the TV analogy breaks down. Being glued to the TV suggests a passiveness, babysitting via electronic device. Channel Orange, though it flickers and mesmerizes, is something you actively fall for. You're in love. -RS

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