Frank Ocean’s ‘Endless’ & ‘Blond’ Create Two Vastly Different Realities
I just started watching Black Mirror, and the second episode of season one was one hell of a concept. The setting is futuristic in which technology reigns supreme and we exercise for currency. The latter seems like a good idea, but it’s the former that builds upon a lot of cringe worthy moments. We’re slaves to a box-like prison we call a bedroom and there’s only one way to escape this life. If you have enough credits, you can purchase a ticket for an American Idol parody that can change your life.
We waited a little over four years and suffered through enough trolling to make us not want anything, but here we are. Back-to-back albums, which the thought alone is worth the wait, titled Endless and Blond. How does someone disappear from the internet, sans a Tumblr, and pop back up with multiple albums at once? Frank Ocean is trying to defy the laws of consumption in a generation that can barely get through an hour album. It also feels like he’s trying to tell us something. He’s an artist, far more than just a musician, so his messages are dense and tough to pinpoint without dissecting his work to pieces.
I’d like to believe Frank Ocean saw that same episode of Black Mirror back in 2011 and let an idea grow in his mind to create two albums that contrast each other. It’s his world but built on two alternate timelines: one where Black Mirror’s premise is in the beginning stages of reality and another where life is lived and enjoyed without much technology. Even before we get to the music, there were two different styles used to release the albums.
Endless had us glued to our computers long before we knew what it was. We sat and watched Frank create what would end up as a staircase for two weeks. In retrospective, it’s so boring, but it was a lesson in how we’re so focused on pointless things online anyways. After many of us gave up with the stream, we’d get sucked back in via a tweet saying something is happening. We just had to find out what it was. Is this the album dropping? What does it all mean? He was testing this concept of our technology usage.
Even the rollout of Endless is not the norm for Frank Ocean. He’s almost mocking the way album releases occur. Get people hyped up, date surfaces, and then nothing. It’s a formula we see time and time again, even if Ocean didn’t initially plan it this way (reports state he pushed it back after the NYT leaked his date).
Separately, Blond came without much warning. It was revealed by someone at Apple to arrive on August 20, but how many times have we heard this? Once it did show up, pop up shops sprouted up out of nowhere with physical copies of Frank’s magazine, and an actual CD of Blond. Sure, you can buy it on iTunes because that’s part of the norm, but half the fun was going out of your house and getting something you can’t find online. This was an act of swaying us away from technology, if only for a moment, to bring us into Frank’s reality. One where Frank still visits Barnes & Noble weekly for his favorite magazines and listens to all his music via a CD deck in his car.
If we’re to believe that these two albums exist in separate timelines, the music would need to represent each reality well. There’s something irregular about the structure of Endless. It’s not tied down to a mellow, soothing sound. There’s a lot of static-y moments. “Alabama” is a perfect example as it comes across as Twitter in audio form. Scrolling down your timeline is all these voices that come at you rapidly until the 0:41 mark where Frank slows down as if he’s clicked on his profile. “What can I do to know you better?” reads like the type of subliminal you’d tweet at your crush.
His language choice on Endless can continue to be broken down to the point of living within the internet. “Unity” is a random Tumblr-posted poem. With “so many heads waiting on my downfall,” said on “Slide On Me,” the only way this line exists is online. Otherwise, Frank lives in a state of peace, unbothered by internet commenters. There’s symbolism surrounding the way he uses Instrumental only parts throughout the album. It’s showing us how we isolate ourselves from the world through the net.
The most obvious example of Frank’s vision doesn’t even come from him. Wolfgang Tillmans contribution to Endless comes in the short intro and returns on a seven-minute outro. The song, titled “Device Control,” is a look at what Apple, Samsung and really all phones can do now. We live through them. “4K video is in your palm,” Wolfgang says over the Techno-infused instrumental. “The new Samsung Galaxy allows to livestream your life.” Speaking to Pitchfork, Tillmans confirmed that the song is exactly what we hear and no messages are hidden. “The absurdity of living life through constantly depicting and broadcasting it is so funny when looked at in the serious words of the phone manufacturers,” he explains. “As if any of it matters, and at the same time we are all doing it to varying degrees.”
Where it’s clear Frank comes out of a comfort zone with Endless, Blond is closer to his traditional sound. Moments where the production drowns out his vocals are non-existent. Ocean uses his voice as an instrument, pushing himself track after track to create music that doesn’t follow one stern pattern. It’s art that takes more than one listen to understand. In fact, it’s so dense that who knows if we, as listeners, will ever truly get Ocean’s vision. It’s easy to pick favorites and conclude an opinion quick-like, but he wants Blond to be appreciated in a different way.
One of the reasons Blond comes closer to a traditional Ocean is because the album fits his personality. He doesn’t use the internet or technology as much as everyone else. This is where the contrast is from Endless. Ocean lives his life without restricting himself to social media every five minutes. He’s out having adventures and doing things in the real world. Little warning came before Blond dropped, which is closer to his mysterious style. It was almost a complete surprise if it wasn’t for one meddling Apple Music employee. Ocean was confident that no matter when he released an album, people would talk about it.
Ironically, Blond will be dominantly discussed online. The opposite of what Ocean’s goal is. This album describes a life outside of a screen and four walls. He seeks freedom in illustrating a night-time ride on “White Ferrari,” which might also double as a cocaine reference, and reflects upon his younger years on “Godspeed.” The imagery on “Solo” is a chaotic standout. He sings one of the most clever triple entendres: “It’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire/ inhale, in hell, there’s heaven.” He’s smoking and that takes him to heaven in a metaphorical sense. Using hell as a place, Ocean also believes there’s some form of heaven to be found there. Lastly, the city being on fire coupled with the usage of inhale means letting that smoke fill your lungs to die and in the afterlife you’ll find heaven.
There’s one skit, titled “Facebook Story,” that aims to put down technology. French producer SebastiAn recalls a short story where one of his previous relationships fell apart due to allegations that he was cheating since he didn’t want to add his girl on Facebook. It’s the exact story that further pushes the narrative of Frank not letting the internet run or even influence his life.
People are going to interpret Endless and Blond in their own ways. Some are just going to dismiss this art for being overly-complicated in a simplistic era, while others will truly find meaning in what Frank Ocean created. It’s hard to ignore the contrast between both albums, and the argument that they represent two separate worlds. That’s the root idea, but there’s ways to branch off from it. You could say Blond is what we were and Endless is where we’re headed. Same timeline, different eras. Or maybe there’s an entirely different hidden message looming between all of Ocean’s excellent vocals.
Regardless of what it all means, the fact that these ideas can exist shows how much passion Frank Ocean put into his music. Having this conversation shows that his dual albums are successful. It truly is art in that there’s not one way to interpret. Ocean is an artist living in a different era instead of putting out album after album every year. He takes time to craft material he knows many won’t understand, but it’s less about appealing to what’s hot and more about satisfaction. It’s cliche to say that Ocean just wants to make the music he wants, yet it’s so true. He runs on his own time, in his own world, with his own views.
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