It has been over 4 years since the release of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange album. After a period of silence from Ocean following his debut, “where’s the album, Frank?’ memes began to taken over the internet. From Twitter to Tumblr to Facebook and everywhere in between, the world was in anticipation of more. With every month that went by, we grew in our impatience. Finally, the wait is over. This month Frank Ocean released not one, but two albums. One came in the form of an Apple Music exclusive visual album entitled Endless. The second is his first full length album since Channel Orange, entitled Blonde.
Blonde is an hour of tumbling soundscapes, memories and lyrics so beautiful you’ll forget where you are. Prior to the release of the record, Ocean posted the lyrics to opening track ‘Nikes’ on his Tumblr. They touch on materialism and family issues as well as adding Ocean’s own voice to the Black Lives Matter movement, paying tribute to the deceased Trayvon Martin. He sings through a special effect that sounds more like the Snapchat bee filter rather than the chipmunk-effect. Somehow, it’s not a bit annoying, but rather beautiful – such is the artistic talent of Frank Ocean. As throughout the album, ‘Nikes’ plays heavily with experimentation whilst maintaining the laid-back melancholy vibe that is often present in Ocean’s music. The backing track goes nowhere in particular, leaving all the story-telling to his words.
Blonde is littered with the imagery I have always associated with Frank Ocean; swimming pools, pink skies and of course, cars. Along with the release of his albums, Ocean released a very limited edition zine named Boys Don’t Cry in which he spoke in length about his obsession with cars and the four years that have passed between Channel Orange and Blonde. That sense of being on the move, travelling through the world but also not feeling part of any world at all whilst on the road going from A to B, is something that translates flawlessly into Ocean’s music. ’White Ferrari’ is a heart-wrenching monologue told from behind the steering wheel. Whilst ’Nights’ is classic windows down, wind in your hair, driving music. It overlays hip-hop production with Ocean showing off his prowess as a rapper; something we’ve rarely heard from this artist. It’ll be a good end-of-summer road trip track.
Two of my favourite songs on the album are ‘Ivy’ and ‘Self Control’. Both pair simple electric guitar that Ocean somehow uses in a way you’ve never heard before, with some of his best vocal performances to date. “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me, the start of nothing, had no chance to prepare, couldn’t see you coming”, he sings on ‘Ivy’. The song laments a love that won’t die but never had the chance to grow either. ‘Self Control’ is a simple ballad made interesting by resonating lyrics, special effects and Ocean’s unique delivery.
In amongst what are often four or five minute long tracks are various interludes and spoken samples. ‘Facebook Story’ shines a light on how social media is ruining our relationships in the real world. ‘Be Yourself’ may or may not be the voice of Ocean’s own mother, however it delivers a somewhat ironic message. In some ways it preaches an important lesson in self-love “be yourself and know that that’s good enough”, she says, “rely and trust upon your own decisions” she tells us, but then goes on to dictate to her listener what drugs not to do. The interlude is followed up by my other favourite track ‘Solo’, which continues the irony with a narrative based around drug abuse. The message comes across loud and strong – be yourself, even if that means disobeying your mother. The album also includes a second ‘reprise’ version of ‘Solo’. The track stars former collaborator Andre 3000, discussing feminism, police brutality and the dark side of enlightenment. His sobering words weld perfectly with Ocean’s melancholy music.
…So Beautiful You’ll forget where you are.
The album is saturated with moments of magic. Sometimes it is Ocean’s voice alone, like on ‘Good Guy’ and ’Siegfried’ that raise the hairs on your arm and makes your spine tingle. Sometimes it is when his genius for song writing shines through such as the moment at 1:39 on ‘Pretty Sweet’ where the beat kicks in. And sometimes it is when he simply tells us a story as in ‘Godspeed’ where he re-imagines his teen years. From start to finish, we are completely captivated.
Blonde is the kind of album that is equally enjoyable to have on in the background as it is listening intently through headphones to every word and every chord. Frank Ocean’s songs remain chilled and palatable as ever, but his genius is present in every bar. His list of influences to whom he gives credit on this album is expansive, from Kanye West to The Beatles to Jamie XX to Elliot Smith. For four years Ocean has been quietly observing, drawing from his own life as well as the art of others. Blonde is the enchanting, addictive and flawless culmination of all of it.