Frank Ocean’s channelORANGE seems to have topped nearly every “best albums of the year poll” I can think of, and it’s not undeserved. The album is futuristic and retro together, the personal vision of a thoroughly talented individual. It’s also not really my thing: R&B is just not a genre that does a whole lot for me.
“Pyramids” is a notable exception. It’s an epic in every sense of the word, spacious, emotional and powerful. Any song that goes for over nine minutes must justify its length, and “Pyramids” requires every second. It builds from what sounds like a generic club track through the somnolent haze of early morning, bright hooks bursting out of smoky miasma. The encroaching festivity grows before evaporating entirely, and the latter half of the track is slinky R&B over a relaxed hip hop beat. Ocean’s voice fades in and out, achingly personal then artificial and distant thanks to oscillating AutoTune.
The eponymous Pyramid that “Cleopatra” works at is clearly a strip club (the music video that accompanies the radio edit removes any possible ambiguity), and the back half of the song evokes the same: dark, sleazy, dirty; neon streaks against weary faces and naked flesh.