Frank Ocean records another first as Channel Orange is named album of the year

Triumph for R&B artist who stunned his peers by coming out

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The Independent Culture

Bisexual hip hop and R&B artist Frank Ocean's genre-defying second release, Channel Orange, has been named Album of the Year in a round-up of UK music critic's top choices.

Released to universal acclaim in July, Channel Orange is a deeply textured fusion of hip hop, soul and R&B, with influences as wide as Marvin Gaye, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Pink Floyd, as well as funk and electro.

It was nominated for six Grammy Awards, reached No 2 in the UK charts and has been credited by some with taking the R&B genre in a new, more challenging, direction.

The album was named Album of the Year by HMV's poll of polls of UK critics and music writers of national print and online titles.

Although Ocean has also written for Justin Bieber and Beyoncé, Channel Orange is noted for its long radio-unfriendly tracks with beats, blips and guitar solos, as well as for its story telling and social commentary.

Songs include 'Pyramid' – a 10-minute tempo-changing narrative about Egyptian queens and strippers – 'Super Rich Kids', about spoilt youth and 'Crack Rock' on the perils of drug taking.

But the songs about lost love initially grabbed the most attention, due partly to Ocean's announcement to a notoriously homophobic hip hop world shortly before the album's release that he was bisexual.

He wrote on his Tumblr blog that his first love, aged 19, was a man. Several of Channel Orange's lovelorn tracks are addressed to a "he".

Ocean, 25, was already well known in the hip hop world for his work with the Odd Future Collective, his song writing credits and soulful vocals. His first album, Nostalgia Ultra, a "mix tape" which he released for free on the internet in 2011, had put him on the map and led to performances with rap superstars Kanye West and Jay Z.

His coming out therefore made global headlines, with some critics likening its cultural impact to David Bowie's admission that he was gay in 1972.

Despite his underground credentials, Channel Orange is considered Ocean's first commercial release through a traditional record label.

In a recent interview, the artist said he might turn his back on music after finding the "story telling" the most interesting aspect of making the album.

"Some people focus more on sonics. Some people focus more on story," he said. "I focus on both sonics and story. But storytelling's a different thing. It's the more interesting part about making music for me, or making albums and songs and stuff. So much so that I might not make another album. I might just write a novel next."

Second place in the HMV poll went to former White Stripes frontman Jack White with Blunderbuss, his first album under his own name.

Australian psychedelic rock act Tame Impala were third, with their release Lonerism. The highest ranked UK artist is Jessie Ware, whose Mercury Prize nominated Devotion is placed sixth.

HMV music manager John Hirst said: "It's no surprise that Frank Ocean has come so high up in many critics' top 10s.

"Aside from having released a truly wonderful debut album, Frank has also earned a great deal of credit in the way he has challenged hip-hop stereotypes. I think we're going to hear a lot more from him in future."

deep ocean what the critics said

"Mission accomplished, and then some." Simon Price, Independent on Sunday

"Perhaps this is R&B's Ziggy Stardust moment, where the controversy and publicity surrounding an artist's sexuality and the brilliance of his latest album combine to give his career unstoppable momentum." Alex Petridis, The Guardian

"At times, Ocean's dense, gorgeous debut evokes the musical bravura of prime Stevie Wonder [or] Prince ... allied to the mad adventurousness of Björk." Neil McCormick, Telegraph

"An expansive, slow-burning classic that repays patience and close attention." Killian Fox, Observer

"Every bit as boldly conceived, brilliantly executed and irrefutably fresh as the hype has it." Sharon O'Connell, Time Out