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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

July 19, 2012 at 7:58 AM

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Summer of Frank Ocean: 'Thinkin Bout You'

Frank Ocean's "Channel Orange" is the summer album of 2012 — a low-key stroke of genius from the Los Angeles-via-New Orleans R&B singer-songwriter, making headlines for bringing man/man romance into pop R&B. But it's deeper than that. I'm going to blog about each song individually, in order. Sorry but Internet Explorer does not support the full album stream below.

"Thinkin Bout You" is arguably the main masterpiece of "Channel Orange," a slippery ballad shooting arrows laced with Ocean's pristine falsetto, the sentiment taking hold gradually, soft and bittersweet, introducing the major emotional theme of the album, lost love. Possibly related to his famous tumblr post about loving a man when he was 19 who didn't love him back, the lyrics are about being haunted by an old feeling of new love, and enjoying that hauntedness. Ocean (or the character he's playing) is glad to be haunted. He's honored to have seen love up close. And instead of being self-involved, there's a terrific humility in that, the notion that just glimpsing love can keep a person up at night for years, and that humans can't necessarily ask for anything more. The memory will have to be enough. There's sadness in that, but a lot of sweetness. Musically "Thinkin Bout You" is mild but effective, faded drums and synthesizers like anesthetic, very of-the-moment, very Drake, merging R&B with electronic dance music and ambient styles. Ocean's singing falls in that zone, too, his verses flow-focused and raplike. But then that falsetto pokes through the fog on the hook: "Or do you not think so far — ahead? 'Cause I've been thinking 'bout forever." Beamed from some higher plane, his voice is more aching with each replay. The song feels specific but also philosophical, Frank Ocean looking down on humans not out of judgment but quizzically, trying to figure out what makes them work. It sets the tone for an album that's basically Adele's "21" if you squint at it right: one long, elegant rumination on being picked over.

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