Sunday, September 25, 2016

Song of the Day #339 - Frank Ocean - Pink Matter (ft. Andre 3000)

Since you been gone, I been having withdrawls

First I should point out that the song I linked is not the real "Pink Matter". I couldn't find it anywhere on Youtube, so you'll have to settle for this "fan remake". And by "settle for" I mean "enjoy to an almost absurd extent". It is beautiful, it is passionate, it is unrestrained, it is surprising, it is everything the original is. Minus Andre 3000 I guess. You're welcome for introducing it or reintroducing it.

The Andre 3000 factor can't be ignored, though. Even if I didn't love this song, I'd feel obligated to write about it just to continue my cataloging of his rare post-Outkast appearances. We covered 20072014, and 2015, so let's get one from 2012 to start shoring things up. Like all of channel ORANGE, we start immersed in Frank Ocean's transcendental blissful soul... the dreamy guitar and piano chords are classic smart choices, but it's the strange, almost abrasive noises that drift through, at like 0:25, that really give it a unique edge. The lyrics discuss neurology, natalism, and cosmological ontology, framed in a dialogue between Frank and his "sensei". If it sounds too heady or pretentious for you, he flips it up with a quick Dragon Ball Z reference, and breaks away from his philosophizing to express - in his glorious soaring falsetto - the pleasure he feels... it reminds me a lot of the end of Chris Ware's Lint, if you've read that. Human, almost painfully human.

And that's the best way to describe Andre's verse, too. You can feel it through just those little additions to the beat just before he come in... just to make him comfortable. Seriously, how is he this comfortable? This conversational? This smooth?? While remaining such an absolute virtuoso, dropping some of the most rhythmically complex and meaningfully dense bars imaginable?? Andre's been playing with this sort of conversational flow since the days of Outkast - it's da art of storytellin', after all, but my favorite has to be his verse on "Humble Mumble". But in his solo career, he's been pushing it to new limits, finding sweet spots where he sounds like he's having a casual conversation among friends and is also undeniably rapping his heart out. Not a single point of infliction or rhyme feels forced, feels "performed", and yet it's so technically perfect, so tight, so fluid, so alliterative, so finely worded... I guess that's just how he is.

The stuff he raps about too, my God... "I had to tell myself naw, she's better with some fella with a regular job" is heartbreaking, and "my memory's no sharp butter knife" resonates painfully with Benz Friends, two years later, giving us "had to write her birthday down cause my memory sucks". He drops a Hemingway reference, but the immediate followup "She had the kinda body that would probably intimidate any of 'em that were un-southern, but not me cousin" is so wonderfully colloquial that he's more a Twain or Faulkner for the 21st century. And the vague longing of the final "we'd flee to other lands" is, again, just painfully human. We have just witnessed a performance from an undeniable demigod of music, but it's the humanity that really resonates.

Honestly, though, I think my favorite part is actually the bridge between this verse and outro. Like those noises I mentioned earlier in the beat, Andre's distorted mournful guitar solo, and the hauntingly distant vocals - "blue used to be my favorite colour" cuts so deep - there's an edge here that really elevates the song. The super abrupt ending too. It would have been so easy to keep it smooth, to paint everything in that crystalline creamy cloudy pink, to let the beat fade out, and that would have been a wonderful song. But it's these choices that make it cling to my mind four years later.

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