I’m gonna keep it short today, because I apparently have tendinitis in my wrist, and while writing in this way doesn’t hurt much, I’d like to keep the usage to a minimum if I can. Also, this record dropped a LONG time ago. All the way back in March. If you haven’t heard it yet, be prepared for some fun. If you have listened to it, it’s probably been on pretty steady rotation in your ears.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this mixtape. I knew very little about Frank Ocean when I picked it up. He wrote one of the songs on the latest Beyonce record, which was terrible, and he also featured heavily on the Watch The Throne release. Most notably, he’s a member of the Odd Future collective that used to be the most hyped group in the world until they started playing shows and people realized that they’re just a bunch of kids doing what kids do. Ocean is different, though. His music is intelligent and sincere, never going for cheap thrills or shock value.
The first time I hit play I hadn’t looked at song titles or anything, and the opening track is a cover of Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing.” I couldn’t believe it. And it was really well done, too. It’s a surprisingly good setup to what is a really, really good R&B record. There’s samples all over the place on Nostalgia, Ultra, and they’re all handled with grace. When I heard the opening chords of “Hotel California” at the end of the record it definitely caught me off guard, but then he samples the WHOLE song. I never would have thought it possible, but it’s actually one of the top two or three tracks on the disc.
Ocean flips through the pop culture iconography that everyone references nowadays, but he also throws in a LOT of Kubrick references, especially Eyes Wide Shut. On the track “Lovecrimes” he even uses a sample of Nicole Kidman’s dialogue to great effect. His voice is smooth like Usher, but his songs have a much greater depth. Unlike the lyrics from Tyler, The Creator or Hodgy Beats, Ocean’s words often question the double standards in America and are almost the opposite of misogyny. He does slip a couple times, like the final track where he’s mostly singing about doing it in a garden. The song is actually kind of catchy, but not that great.
If you’re a R&B fan, you will undoubtedly enjoy this record. If, like me, the only modern R&B you enjoy is R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix),” you may be surprised how easily you connect with Nostalgia, Ultra.