Frank Ocean Drops Two Albums, Cements Cultural Importance
On Saturday, August 20th around 7:30 PM, a mythical and enigmatic voice entered back into our lives after a four year hiatus. I’m referring, of course, to Frank Ocean’s follow-up studio album Blonde (Or as it’s also been called “Blond”). Earlier in that same weekend, Ocean also dropped maybe the most cryptic series of pictures, videos, and obscure live streams in recent memory, which led to the visual album, Endless.
A lot has changed since Frank released his unanimously praised 2012 debut album, Channel Orange. When this album came out, Frank had created a decent and palpable buzz with songs like “Novacane” and “Swim Good.” Ocean was not, however, considered among the biggest artists in the game. Slowly, things started to turn. Ocean appeared on Jay Z and Kanye West’s album Watch The Throne, but musically, there was a lot left to be desired.
If you have been following the incessant internet trolling during this four year period, you know that Ocean has teased albums, not delivered, sent out hints, but there was nothing concrete. There was little to give fans any belief that a record would come out. To be fair, Ocean has completely detached himself from social media, aside from a handful of tumblr posts over the years. However, during this absence, ironically Ocean is at his peak of social media supremacy. Fans cannot get enough. Memes of long tortured die hards and diatribes of anguish have been comically filling the void of music for four long years. However, it all changed this past weekend.
There is very little background or context to the “visual album” Endless. It seemed to come out of nowhere. The piece, which runs 45 minutes long, is an oddity. Frank is building stairs, walking around aimlessly in a black and white setting. The actual album, Blonde, has a few sonic differences.
Endless almost feels like it was recorded under water, meant to put you in a trance on a rainy and gloomy day. Endless is far more dreary. Songs like “Wither” and “Slide On Me” (12:56, 19:00) show pinpoint craftsmanship but show Ocean’s classic vulnerability. By making this album only available in one context, with no playlists and just a video, Ocean made an album that forced the listener to focus for it’s entirety. It is meant to be played from start to finish and not skipped around, but rather viewed as a whole. You are challenged to see the work as a collective. Granted, every artist strives to make albums that you listen to from song 1 to song 15, but most will skip around to their favorite songs and becomes more of a compilation. Aside from the bizarre final 8 minutes that sounds like a robot advertising Apple and Samsung, Ocean accomplished his mission with Endless. It is a cohesive album and has a lot of quality throughout.
Blonde, on the other hand, feels very different. Emotion is never lost, of course, and the key difference is Blonde has not only sounds but colors and imagery. There are birds chirping, bright sunshines moving from out of the clouds, you can feel the movie-like quality that Ocean put into this record. All songs are clearly very polished and there’s no waste of space.
What makes Frank special is his ability to invoke emotion and create lasting feelings that stand the test of time. Ocean make melodies that stick in your head, and he is original to a fault, not afraid to be himself and at times seem weird. To me, that is one of his most endearing qualities as a musician. On songs like “Pink + White” there is clearly more life and bounce to the music. It’s almost like Endless was the mixtape, the warm-up for the main event in Blond. On other songs like “Solo” and “Ivy”, Frank’s undeniable talent shines through.
Going Dark, Recruiting A Legend
Despite zero social media, Ocean remains a hot topic every time something happens, leaving the Internet in a frenzy on a daily basis
Frank has done something remarkable. He has managed to be one of the most talked about artists, while ironically not being active or conforming to any social media pressures.
Another impressive accomplishment on Blond was getting Andre 3000 for the second time on an album, which is no small feat.
He also managed to get an incredibly inspired 3 Stacks for “Solo (Reprised)”, which is music to listeners ears. The last time they hooked up was a great and poignant number, “Pink Matter” but it’s saw the elusive Andre in a slower tempo. This is rapid fire, hungry Andre which hasn’t been seen since the early Outkast days. 3000 even called out artists having ghost writers, which has already fueled speculation that this was a shot at Drake.
Both have fittingly completely avoided the spotlight but the masses come to Ocean due to his impeccable talent and content. Fans were so starved for Frank’s work that they were willing to have just about anything.
In summary, while this is not Channel Orange, it is definitely a nice body of work that showcases Frank’s undeniable singer/songwriter abilities. Both releases will take many listens to digest and fully appreciate the body of work.
Regardless of the content, Ocean has become one of the most important artist of this generation and easily one of those polarizing. Hopefully, we don’t have to wait another four years for his next album.