Frank Ocean is confused, heartbroken and still able to make generationally great music.
On Channel Orange, Frank Ocean floated above the L.A. hills and sang poetry about the rich life. This album begins in the same sky, pumped up by jaded epiphanies from looking down upon the epicentre of consumer culture (“the bitches want Nikes, they looking for a check/cheque”). Yet, after the helium-voice fades, the track descends all the way down to Frank’s own confusion about identity and love (“I’m not him but I’ll mean something to you”), which is kinda the central theme of this whole album.
Let’s compare Drake and Frank Ocean’s treatment of “past lover songs”.
Drake’s over all his exes. And that’s important to rap. Because even though the hyper-masculine genre has slowly come to accept vulnerable break-up songs as gangster, you best not be on some confused shit over a chick, B. By name dropping people, places and events, his post-relationship stories seem real, and there’s nothing more we like then reality making sense. In Drake’s music, everything happens for a reason and emotions towards a person are neatly organized and tucked away.
On this track, Frank gives that approach a brief try. “If I could see through walls, I could see you’re faking” is “Drakesque” in its empathetic backhandedness and pity for the ex that isn’t doing well. But, like “Nikes”, that hip-hop attitude ends up crumbling in to an RnB/Alt-Rock level of vulnerability. And that’s probably the more accurate representation of the way people handle break-ups. You’ll try and rationally think about it all, until you get hit with an emotional wave that messes all that logic up. Judging by the fact you hear him breaking stuff, Frank probably got hit with one of those.
It’s good we got Drake and Frank. Both are important. Sometimes you need comfort, sometime you need truth.
Pink + White
If you’re trying to create the exact opposite sound of frustration, who’s better at producing a happy beat than Pharell Williams? And to get Beyonce to do background vocals!? JEEZ.
Sitting with this album, it took occasional listens to other new stuff (Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight or The Sun’s Tirade), to realize this guy is on another level as a songwriter. It’s that ability to craft tunes around incredibly complex concepts without being overbearing. (I’ve had some people say that about To Pimp A Butterfly).
This song is about Frank’s mental grapple against the ying-yang way of the world and he makes it sound so effortlessly pretty, so you have to ask: “Why grapple against the ying-yang way of the world when you can make music that sounds this pretty, Frank?”
But Frank’s a relentless ponderer. He uses this song to thank a past friend and his mama for making him aware and accepting of forces greater than we can control, so he can stop being so hard on himself. While he’s appreciative of the lesson, the knowledge doesn’t resolve his life, it just changes his outlook. Yeah, when your city is literally plunged underwater by Hurricane Katerina you find a way to stay hopeful. But, on the other end, during great moments, you can’t fully immerse in the joy because you’re aware that “It’s all downhill from here”, sings Frank Ocean.
Sex (Pink) and drugs (White) are the closest thing Frank can get to imagining heaven. A place of the highest joys where there is never a come down. I guess he doesn’t want to be a human anymore, as he ends the song saying “Bitch I might like immortality”.
A real voicemail left by his friend’s mama, which is supposed to draw attention to the presence of disapproval towards his drug filled lifestyle. There is some advice we listen to….
…and some we ignore.
Over a church organ, Frank opens the song with a sinful image of doing LSD and ‘dirty dancing”, which apparently is a euphemism for masturbating (?), which then reminds me a little of “Father Stretch My Hands” on The Life of Pablo. It’s that aggressive confession over a sample or instrument that is usually associated with church hymns and, you know, sounds you wouldn’t expect to be contain a lyric about rubbing one out.
Coming off the interlude, which exhibited an old school mentality to figuring out how to be yourself, Frank creates a ballad for a new generation of kids that don’t search for heaven or identity in church pews or self-help books, but at the bottom of dirty bongs and ripped zig-zag pack filters.
There’s stuff about loneliness, patience, love with technology, cosmic tension, contraception, marriage rights, etc. It’s all over the place, but aren’t we all.
Spaced out, and smoking a joint the morning after sleeping with another man, Frank is aware of religions hate toward his homosexual actions (“Til God strikes us”), but doesn’t seem to care. Lyrically, the rest is pretty random and I’ve spent an annoying amount of time trying to figure where Kendrick is on this track. If you know, lemme know.
I like the song, but don’t love it. It’s a little too…stoned. And that might be the reason some people get turned off the project. The album’s sound is atmospheric, minimalist, and goes long stretches without any drums. If you’re not someone that likes to ruminate over lyrics, or isn’t accustomed to the space in this kind of music, this project could be a little too low key for you.
But read the rest of this and press the like thing at the bottom.
Let’s start with the two important things.
- This song features Yung Lean, leader of the Sad Boy movement, and creator of the weirdest/craziest/waviest video I have ever seen:
2) Give it a couple minutes after watching that video and clear your emotional palette.
3) Listen to this track.
4) If you don’t get a little emotional during the last minute and a half of this song, you do not have a heart, or a soul, or both.
Because this song is beautiful it deserves a proper breakdown.
The song’s structure parallels the memory of his past relationship. That electronically high-pitched “poolside convo” gets undercut by a tale-telling campfire acoustic guitar, which slowly brings in dramatic strings, and features a Kanye auto-tune cry section before finally culminating into a choir of Frank Oceans singing a melody that will stay in your head for the rest of your life. That structure reflects that way Frank remembers his past love. In memory, Frank’s initial honeymoon stage seems so sped up compared to the pondering and emotionally confused break-up stage, hence the contrast between the tone at the beginning of the song (where you think for a second it’s going to breakdown into some kind of beat) and the rest of it.
Lyrically, the first verse is about how his partner was younger, inexperienced with drug use and sex, but ultimately admired for a stability that Frank lacked. The second verse builds off the difference in their personality in terms of their approach to love. His ex’s reaction was restraint, where his was indulgence. Frank accepts love that we’ll make him act different, the other dude/girl is hesitant. In that sense, the term “lose self-control” is destabilized. We tend to think of losing self-control as a bad thing, but Frank sees it as a liberating event, an opportunity to break chains on things that negatively control your self.
The last part is so devastatingly beautiful because a lot of this album deals with him justifying a lost love and he finally admits he’s not over it at all. On the chorus, despite moving on, he asks to be remembered and cherished (“I’ll sleep between y’all”), but does so in a forcefully casual way (“It’s nothing”). That facade just ends up breaking down after the auto tune cry part. The words Frank repeats three times on the outro are: “I”, “Leave”, and “Tonight”, which after one repetition becomes “Night” . “I Leave Tonight” is an abandonment of his own standards of self-respect. Aware that his ex doesn’t love him anymore, it’s a desperate promise of having this one night in order to feel the relationship one last time. “I Leave Night” is a sad admission of feeling that he leaves everybody sad during this time in his life. It also acknowledges that making his ex lose self control, would also mean losing restraint over his own emotions and feeling sad about Frank.
I find it weird that I don’t skip this. I always skip interludes.
With a catchy melody, Franks sings a short story of going on a blind date with another man at a gay bar in New York. After texting for a while, he’s disappointed to find out (in person) that the guy doesn’t “need him” and only wants to bang.
The conversation at the end serves a gender levelling purpose. Doesn’t matter if you’re guy, girl, straight, or gay, if you get your heart broken you’ll loose faith in romance.
Duality is a major theme on this album because Frank is someone who’s identity is constantly trying to navigate the struggle between bisexuality, masculine vs. feminine side, optimistic vs. pessimistic attitude, single vs. relationship, high vs. sober, and solitary vs. public life. Even the title having different titles, Blond or Blonde, is a reference to gender binaries.
This track is the most obvious example of dualism. It has two beats, that represent two contrasting moods. And as internet music detectives have discovered, that beat switch happens at exactly halfway through the entire album’s runtime (30:03/60:06).
Drums give the first part a backbone that the five previous songs lacked. It has an optimistic, defiant, keep ya head up feel to it and Frank uses the space to sing your future Instagram quote about friendship, loyalty, cars, crime, and hoes. That positivity crescendoes at the chorus (“New beginnings ahh”).
After the chorus and some distortion, the beat switches up into something dope that sounds a little like Drake’s “Wu-Tang Forever”. He then goes about being nostalgic, which tends to mean sad for Frank Ocean. “Every night fucks everyday up, every day patches the night up” explains the frustratingly cyclical nature of Frank’s life. He wake up feeling optimistic, then gets depressed every night.
Andre 3000 hopping on Frank’s album for the second time, this time symbolizing a moment of frustration, rather than mourning a break-up on “Pink Matter”.
I’m not really feeling the beat, but you got to respect the wordplay. As a feature, he fits in to what the album is doing. He builds off the previous track “Solo”, as well as sticking to the theme of ambiguity by employing the word to also mean “so low”. He goes off about racial tension in America, gender relations and ghostwriting. In the scheme of the album, this song represents Frank getting pissed off.
This song is a trip. Definitely the most experimental production on this project. It’s a little tough to decipher, but maybe that’s the point. So we’ll go with: the lack of clarity in Frank’s life becomes too much and creates a storm of loud guitars and haunting boy choirs.
Makes sense to me.
Dawg. Just accept her on Facebook.
Anyways, the skit draws attention to the presence of technology in romance. This album, with all it’s confusion and simultaneous endings and beginnings, is an examination of love in the time of social media.
Close To You
Nice little build off from the last interlude that comments on how we’re always close to our loved ones because of social media. But it’s not the same as physically being there, and because you’re always seeing pictures and their posts, you get reminded of that.
Honestly, I thought the album lost a lot of steam after the last four songs. They were too short/experimental/weird or just interludes. It’s tough adjusting to a super slow track after all that jazz.
It’s a sad ballad about dropping this lover (am I wrong for assuming this is the same person throughout the album?) at the airport and regrettably not saying everything he wanted to before they stepped out. He still cares for this person and hopes they can be together/discover a stronger connection in another dimension.
Frank Ocean is young black man in a country who’s changing media landscape has brought renewed energy to issues of racism. Frank Ocean is bisexual in a genre of music that hasn’t been accepting of any sexual orientation other than aggressively heterosexual. Frank Ocean is an extremely introverted person in a culture that demands transparency from its talented musicians.
Frank Ocean is a symbol, but Frank Ocean is a human.
Culturally we lucked out by having an aware and honest human being in the middle of this storm. Living a hermit-like existence, not allowing media outlets to construct his identity, he puts it all into his music. He’s a reporter to what the hell being alive today does to your thoughts.
That’s a lot to deal with.
He admits “I’m not brave” on this track and muses “Maybe I’m a fool, maybe I should settle, two kids and a swimming pool”. And when you look back, this whole album has been an attempt to hold on to a former version of himself. Someone who did a lot of drugs, struggled and loved when it wasn’t cool to love.
Frank, in the present, sings “This is not my life, it’s just a fond farewell to a friend”. He’s ready to let go of the former version of himself. He still loves the person he sang about during the album, but doesn’t need them there anymore. “I’ll do anything for you. In the dark”.
That sound in the first 33 seconds of the song is powerful AF.
Building off the “moving on” from the past song, Frank wants the best for his past lover. Godspeed is “an expression of good wishes to someone starting a journey”. There’s no ill-will and he’ll always be there for the person because he’s discovered a pure love.
One of those tracks you throw on when you’re feeling low, you know?
On this album, Frank rapping is a signal that he’s in the present, and no longer living in the past. He touches on music helping him sort through problems. Talks about celebrity making him feel like he’s a god, even though he’s not, and jokes about awful he would be at being a god. Also he muses how celebrity life will probably be the cause of his death. He ends the song with some references to fighting Chris Brown that one time, and his whole life switching up since he got famous.
His little brother is being interviewed in the end, which is a final reminiscing moment. In the end he questions “How far is a light year”, asking how far has he come since the time of that interview.
Personally, I love the album. It’s great how you can just have it on in the background when you’re driving, or lay in bed and focus on the lyrics. Not many albums can pull that off.
From a pure listening perspective, sometimes the production is a little bare. It’s purpose is to highlight the singing and message of the songs. The lack of drums is suppose to parallel the lack of a comforting rhythm in Frank’s life. But, when you just want to bob you’re head, you don’t care what it’s supposed to be doing, and that’s fair.
I prefer the first half (until “Nights”), but it’s a great project and definitely deserves several listens.
And that’s that. Now we got to wait another four years for the next album!