Nostalgia, Ultra. (stylized as "nostalgia,ULTRA.") is the debut mixtape by American artist Frank Ocean , released on February 18, 2011. Ocean was inspired to make the mixtape after he moved to Los Angeles following his hometown being hit by Hurricane Katrina. After joining alternative hip hop group OFWGKTA at the end of 2009, he self-released the mixtape on February 18, 2011, without initial promotion. It was made downloadable via Ocean's personal blog. The mixtape was noted for its surreal themes, its unique R&B aesthetic and the nostalgic lyrical value. The content mostly focuses on interpersonal relationships, personal reflection and social commentary. Following its release, the mixtape received general acclaim from music critics, receiving an 83% on Metacritic. In May 2011, Def Jam announced its plans to release tracks from the mixtape as an EP on July 26, 2011. However, the release of the EP was indefinitely delayed in July 2011 and has since been cancelled. Two singles were released from the aborted EP version; "Novacane," and Swim Good". Both songs received music videos directed by Australian director Nabil Elderkin. "Novacane" received chart success on the Billboard Hot 100 and both singles charted on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Ocean embarked on a solo concert tour through North America and Europe to promote the record, playing a total of 7 shows. Ocean performed both singles and several other songs from Nostalgia, Ultra during his concert tour. The album appeared on several music critics' and publications' end-of-year albums lists, including ones published by Pitchfork Media, Rolling Stone, and The Guardian. Complex named it the second best mixtape of the year. "Novacane" was also listed as one of the best songs of the year by several publications. Recording artist Kanye West was reportedly a fan of the mixtape, which lead to him inviting Ocean to appear on his album Watch the Throne. Subsequently, Ocean collaborated with recording artists Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z after they were introduced to the mixtape through West. Following its release, both Ocean and the mixtape have developed a cult following.
Background[edit | edit source]
Frank Ocean was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He made the decision to pursue a career in music at a young age, and as a teen, he did neighborhood chores to fund his early studio sessions. After Hurricane Katrina hit his hometown of New Orleans, Ocean moved to Los Angeles to pursue a recording career. There he landed songwriting gigs for established artists like John Legend and Justin Bieber. In late 2009, he met producer Tricky Stewart, who helped Ocean sign a contract with Def Jam Recordings as a solo artist. However, he was initially unable to build a relationship with the company. In protest, Ocean joined the rap collective OFWGKTA which introduced him to artists such as Tyler, The Creator and Hodgy Beats. During his time with the group he recorded and self-released Nostalgia, Ultra without any pre-release promotion on his Tumblr account.
The mixtape samples songs from Radiohead, Coldplay, MGMT, Mr. Hudson and The Eagles, which Ocean sings over. Ocean, when uploading the album to iTunes, labeled it as "bluegrass" and "death metal", out of arbitrariness. When asked about why he uploaded the songs in that way, he replied; "I don't want to seem like I have a cause against genres, or maybe I do... Bluegrass is swag. Bluegrass is all the way swag." Ocean described the making of his mixtape as “a labor of love. It was like difficult to make. Not like writing the songs [or] arranging the songs. That had a level of difficulty, too. But just piecing together all the levels to do it at the level, the quality of records I wanted to make… But, it was a process I appreciate so much.”
In his own words, Ocean calls the album "nostalgic." He explains, "it's a longing for the past. That's what this record felt like." The lyrical content, according to Ocean, relates to heartbreak and other familiar tropes of interpersonal relationships: "I wasn't trying to make a record that people could relate to. I was just trying to make a record with the shit that I wanted to express. The shit that I wanted to get off my chest. [...] A lot of this record is influenced by one relationship, but I don't owe that whole project to one situation. It doesn't matter what the details of it are." Discussing the writing process behind the album, he mused "I guess I'm just inspired to tell stories." He continued, "you gotta make sure the listener is listening to you, so if you put it into a song, often times, if the song is striking enough, then you can really deliver the story most effectively while keeping the ear of the listener the whole time. I guess it all starts with the stories for me."
Content[edit | edit source]
The album begins with a cover of "Strawberry Swing" by English alternative rock band Coldplay.The song ends abruptly with the "rude sound of an alarm clock," followed by the "nightmarish" song "Novacane". Lyrically, the track "has Ocean losing his senses in the company of a wannabe dentist/porn star he met at Coachella." AllMusic stated that that the song is a "dreamlike midtempo tale filled with drugs, conquests, and anxiety." Several interludes are placed throughout the album, named after video games, such as Street Fighter, Metal Gear Solid, GoldenEye 007 and Soulcalibur. This is reported to give the album a more nostalgic feel. Track "American Wedding" is a remake of "Hotel California" by American rock band Eagles. According to Ocean, Don Henley threatened to sue him if he continued to perform his version at shows. Pitchfork Media wrote that "in a skit called "Bitches Talkin", the ladies tell him to cut it out with the damn Radiohead; in 'Songs For Women', he obliges—he's an indie kid when it comes to alienation but a pragmatist when it comes to sex." "Swim Good" has been described as an "astonishing suicide song" and that "Ocean finds himself dressed in black ('Like I'm ready for a funeral'), tormented by heartbreak and on the verge of driving his car into the sea."
On the track "We All Try", Ocean speaks out against homophobia. According to The Guardian, "Odd Future's frequent use of the word 'faggot' unsettled liberal stomachs", and that "Ocean was brave enough to stand alone once more, declaring on 'We All Try': 'I believe that marriage isn't between a man and woman, but between love and love'. On the same song he reveals his opinion of the pro-choice debate: 'I believe a woman's temple, gives her the right to choose/ But baby don't abort.'" "There Will Be Tears" is an emotional song containing a "glitchy beat", and "heavily synthesised vocals," where Ocean sings: "Hide my face, hide my face, can't let 'em see me crying/ Cause these boys didn't have no fathers neither/ And they weren't crying." The mixtape also contains several references to American director Stanley Kubrick and his films, most notably Eyes Wide Shut.
Promotion[edit | edit source]
On May 19, 2011 Ocean's record label Def Jam announced its plans to release an EP containing tracks from nostalgia, Ultra. Ocean announced that the re-release would have been be titled Nostalgia, Lite and that it was expected to feature seven tracks. The EP was originally scheduled to be released on July 26, 2011, however, Ocean noted on his official Tumblr page on July 24, 2011 that Nostalgia, Lite would no longer be released on July 26 and that the project was cancelled.
"Novacane" was officially released as the first single off of Nostalgia, Ultra on May 31, 2011. "Novacane" first charted on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs on May 11, 2011 at number 65. The subsequent week, it rose to number 58, and on its third week, the single rose to number 52. In its fourth week, it rose to number 17. A music video for "Novacane" was released on June 16, directed by Australian director Nabil Elderkin. When discussing the video, Ocean commented “I was just trying to connect or articulate visually the feeling of being numb. The feeling of wanting to feel something you can’t feel. A lot of things can cause that numbing, but in the video it was some sort of topical aesthetic and a little bit of special effects.” The song also charted on the Billboard Hot 100 at position 82.
"Swim Good" was released as the second single from the mixtape, and it charted at position on 70 on the Billboard R&B chart for one week. A music video also directed Nabil Elderskin was released via Ocean's tumblr account on September 16. Ocean performed "Novacane" and "She" with Tyler, The Creator at a OFWGKTA performance in New York.
Reception[edit | edit source]
Nostalgia, Ultra received general acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 83, based on nine reviews, which indicates "universal acclaim". Allmusic editor Andy Kellman gave it four out of five stars and commended Ocean's "wistful, often self-effacing perspective and numbed, restrained delivery". AbsolutePunk gave it an 84% rating and complimented Ocean's "sensual R&B" style, while calling his beats "unique, well-executed originals." Steven Hyden of The A.V. Club called the album "dark, playful, a little tasteless, and absolutely riveting". Connor O'Neill of The Miscellany News called the album "quite a convincing argument to stick around and hear what Ocean puts together after he gets out of bed," stating "he's using the primary means of R&B decadence; however, by funneling it through his diverse and diverging palette, Ocean literalizes both his nostalgic impulses and the odd future of which he is a part." The Village Voice's Sean Fennessey also praises Ocean, saying "on Ultra, but he's an intuitive r&b stylist, with a firm sense of song structure." Sam Hockley-Smith of The Fader commented that "It is a straight up R&B album, and while there are a couple uneven moments, the highs (“Swim Good,” “Song For Women,” “We All Try,” “Dust”) are really high [...] Frank Ocean would probably be (OFWGKTA)'s less open- hearted Kenna—a more cynical, but still simultaneously wide-eyed version."
Music critic Robert Christgau gave the album an A rating and stated, "His romantic laments are models of texture, respect, and profound loss, their beats subtle, seductive, weird, and seized like time whether he's deploying 'songs for women' that are soon trumped by Drake's, not feeling a porn-moonlighting dental student and her 'novacaine,' or annulling a courthouse wedding solemnized just before his bride turned in her term paper on hijab." Pitchfork Media's Ryan Dombal commented that "There are distinct elements of Drake's melancholic paranoia and The-Dream's high melodrama, too. But there's also a heady surreality surrounding Nostalgia, Ultra that makes it unique." Jon Caramanica of The New York Times described it as "slick and intuitive [...] full of astral soul that owes debts to Terence Trent D’Arby, Pharrell Williams, even Drake", adding that "[Ocean] sings casually but precisely, stretching out syllables as if he’s forgetting to let them go." NPR's Andrew Noz commented that "It's his songwriting, smart and subtle, that sets Ocean far apart from that pack", adding that "The finest moments of Nostalgia, Ultra orbit the same soul-baring and minutiae-obsessed space as Marvin Gaye's breakup opus Here, My Dear or any number of Prince's more idiosyncratic ballads". No Ripcord's Charlie Jebb wrote that "Nostalgia, Ultra has more than enough good stuff to establish Ocean as an artist to watch," calling it "[an] R&B record with crossover potential without sacrificing soul that creates a complete picture of its author, warts and all."
Accolades[edit | edit source]
'The record was nominated for Best International Album at the 2012 Grammis. Despite being a mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra was featured on several music critics' and publications' end-of-year albums lists. Pitchfork Media put it number 35 on its list of the year's top albums, writing that "Chris Breaux, who goes by Frank Ocean , is a male R&B singer with male R&B contradictions: As much as he wants to listen to his heart, he can't completely ignore his dick." The Guardian writer Tim Jonze named it the year's third best album, musing "unafraid to tackle suicide, abortion and absent fathers, this free mixtape introduced one of our most refreshing new R&B stars." The A.V. Club ranked the album number 15 on its year-end list, commenting that "Nostalgia, Ultra became a runaway Internet hit that showed off Ocean’s coaxing croon as well as his outré songwriting skills. Sweetly romantic, yet pensive and moody, Nostalgia is an R&B record for manics, from the hazy lament of “Novacane” to the inward-looking contradiction of “Songs For Women” to the clever pop remakes of The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing.” Rolling Stone named it the 24th best album of the year, writing "the debut mixtape from the 24-year-old singer (and Odd Future member) is an avant-R&B killer." Complex named it the fourth best album of the year and the second best mixtape. Time named it the fifth best album of the year, and wrote that "Ocean also weaves audio of a tape recorder in rewind, video games and Nicole Kidman's adulterous monologue from Eyes Wide Shut into his songs to give the album a personal feel — as if Ocean were gifting us with a collection of sounds that he finds emotionally meaningful." Spin named it the 41st best album of the year while Mojo placed the album at number 49. Kanye West, a fan of Nostalgia, Ultra, asked Ocean to work on Watch the Throne, which led to Ocean meeting Beyoncé and Jay-Z. 'The track Novacane also received widespread critical acclaim. It was listed as one of the best songs of the year by The New York Times, Ology, Zimbio, and Pitchfork Media named both the video and the song as amongst the best of the year.
Track Listing[edit | edit source]
|2. Strawberry Swing"||Coldplay||3:55|
|3. "Novacane"||Tricky Stewart||5:03|
|4. "We All Try"||Happy Perez||2:25|
|5. "Bitches talkin"||Radiohead||0:22|
|6. "Songs 4 Women"||Happy Perez||4:13|
|9. "There Will Be Tears"||Mr. Hudson & T-Wiz||3:15|
|10. "Swim Good"||Midi Mafia||4:17|
|11. "Dust"||Bei Maejor & T-Wiz||2:31|
|12. "American Weding"||James Flauntlroy II||7:01|
|13. "Soul Calibur"||?||0:18|
|14. "Nature Feels"||MGMT||3:43|