Frank Ocean's soon-to-be-rereleased album, Nostalgia, Ultra., is a grower. When I first heard it in March, it seemed like a better-than-average debut a few rare flashes of brilliance. But I wasn't bowled over. For every slick no-brainer ("Novacane," "Songs For Women"), there was a strange, off-putting decision lurking ("Strawberry Swing" samples Coldplay; "American Wedding" inexpicably reinterprets the Eagles' "Hotel California"). But the more time spent with Nostalgia, the more likeable Ocean becomes as a singer, and more importantly, a storyteller. Another encouraging sign: he hasn't slowed down in releasing new material.
Over the weekend, Ocean released a new song and video not found on Nostalgia. "Acura Integurl" clocks in at under two mintues and its visual is nothing more than the R&B Odd Future singer driving an Acura NSX in the mountains while looking contemplative. And somehow, it's beautiful and arresting and I can't stop watching it. A possible personal bias: as a Southern rap fan who has spent way too much time converting Lil Wayne non-believers, the opening lines of "Acura Integurl" land eerily close to home:
"Kept saying, 'Bitch, I'm paid, that's all I gotta say'
I'm like who knew ... who knew ... who knew
that after all those years I'd make a Weezy fan out of you, too?
When I met you you were Thom Yorke, Chris Martin and U2
When you met me I was Three 6, Pimp C, Bun B, 8 Ball and MJG ..."
These are details normally glossed over in modern-day R&B. Trey Songz likes grand proclamations (he invented sex; he wants to trade love faces), while The-Dream would rather outfit his girl in the latest high-fashion brands. I'd be surprised if those guys would even consider namedropping other artists in their songs. But when Ocean does it, it paints a picture without beating it over the listener's head; a true gift. This over-before-you-know-it track sets Ocean apart without ever breaking a sweat. The video is all-too fitting — a quick, calm drive that quietly speaks volumes to the writer's evolving talent.