Review: “Blonde” and “Endless” – Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean has a lot of feelings. He let us know that in his first album, Channel Orange, and the mixtape, Nostalgia, ULTRA, that preceded it. He continues to do so on his newly released albums, Blonde, and his visual album, Endless. Frank Ocean sings about his feelings and frequently features other artists who sing about his feelings.
On Blonde, Ocean sings less about his feelings than usual. Usual is a reference only to the one album we used to have for comparison, in addition to to the trail of crumbs tracks he leaked on the four year path to Boys Don’t Cry. Which is not what he called either of his newest albums. So what happened to Boys Don’t Cry? The flash drive Ocean backed it up on was erased. All the collaborations and musical growth he had planned to release…gone. Even Frank Ocean is subject to the technological pains of mere mortals.
Blonde is, as a whole, less harmonic than Channel Orange. There is less focus on the weaving together of close harmonies that was so quintessential to Ocean’s style of R&B. Blonde more frequently relies on segue tracks of white noise, a technique rarely used in Channel Orange. One such track is a particularly amusing voicemail recording from a mother lecturing her child to stay away from drugs — after which Ocean transitions immediately into a track about doing acid.
The track seems humorous at first blush; motherly concern as a joke. However, the length of it belies some deeper meaning. A minute and a half dedicated to this mother’s voice recording belies a deeper intention, even if it is only in direct contrast to the song after it, “Solo.” In this song Ocean waxes poetic about being alone in all its drug fueled and flowery tendencies, and his mastery for melody returns.
The best way to describe “Solo” is the best way to describe Channel Orange: gospel pop or R&B, otherwise known as Frank Ocean’s personal musical signature. Blonde is built on solo melodies from Ocean and the artists he features, less than a tapestry of harmony, a simple and elegant musical testament to loneliness set to a prominent beat.
Endless is an excellent opportunity to visualize Ocean’s collaborative process, especially if you enjoy watching Ocean work with other bodies on carpentry. The black and white shot of a shop studio filled with speakers, though, seems more representative — unless Ocean, like another savior before him, is a carpenter. More of his work in Endless involves intimate, familiarly dissonant harmonies. Endless and Blonde came about after calamity. They are, as Maximo Borisonik’20 said, “the scraps of the work he meant to put out, and it’s still better than any music that has come out this year.”
In the first track of Endless, Frank Ocean croons about a “positive motivating force within my life,” which he follows up on his Tumblr with, “I had the time of my life making all of this. Thank you all. Especially those of you who never let me forget I had to finish. Which was basically every one of y’all. Haha. Love you.”