Release Date: Aug 20, 2016
Record label: Self-released
"We gon' see the future first / We'll let you guys prophesy," Frank Ocean sings on opener Nikes – and you believe him. Not least because the high, eerie 'wooooooh's that ring cold and cutting feel reminiscent of Kanye's Wolves, a track Ocean (briefly) contributed to earlier this year and has cleared by a country mile. The single with which Ocean introduced his second official album is delicate, tender, true; wheeling through commercial dealings, police brutality and the trappings of fame with class and clatter.
When Frank Ocean broke his four-year musical silence last week to release Endless – a 45-minute visual album that saw him building a spiral staircase to a soundtrack of disjointed, avant-soul – many listeners, myself included, made an assumption. It seemed logical that Endless was the sound of Ocean unburdening himself of his more outre leanings before the release of his second studio album, a more focused commercial project that would cement the reputation he earned after 2012’s Channel Orange as one of pop’s most vital voices. With its falsetto Isley Brothers covers, ambient undercurrent and Wolfgang Tillmans electroclash numbers, Endless was intriguing.
No one imagined Frank Ocean would return after four years of silence with an album of minimalist, avant-garde R&B, yet here we are, Blonde in hand. Then again, no one could predict what he would return with, or if he would return at all. After the release of Grammy-winning Channel ORANGE and 2011’s Nostalgia, Ultra, Ocean was flooded with fame, a level of attention he avoided: dodging press, turning down guest verses, deleting his Twitter.
Before it was recognized as a sprawling masterpiece, Frank Ocean’s debut album channel ORANGE was pigeonholed as an overhyped album about coming out of the closet. Prompted by a tumblr note published the week of the album release, that reaction had little to do with the music. The album itself was more concerned with rich dimensions of love, loss and longing than rote sexuality, but Ocean’s sexuality utterly dominated how people talked about the album.
First time I sang karaoke was this summer and I was nowhere near fucked up enough. I enjoyed it, though. One highlight involved pretty shaky accompaniment for a spirited rendition of ‘Close To You’, barely keeping up with a dance partner who nailed her part. I guess the point is that when it comes down to it, you find a way, no matter how ludicrous and neon-tinged and 2am your own specific situation may be.
When you think about it, four years isn’t that long a period between albums. Brian Wilson, after all, took nearly 40 years to complete Smile, Guns N’ Roses‘ Chinese Democracy became a long-standing joke ages before the album’s eventual release 15 years after its predecessor, and only last month The Avalanches eventually brought their 16 year hiatus to a close with their album Wildflower. Yet four years has seemed like an eternity to everyone desperate for a follow-up to Channel Orange, a fact Frank Ocean himself poked fun at in a Tumblr post by thanking everyone “who never let me forget I had to finish.
In the four years since channel ORANGE was released, Frank Ocean has gone from breakout star to musical myth. Instead of basking in the glow of Grammys and critical acclaim, the New Orleans singer receded from the spotlight to work on his sophomore effort, Boys Don’t Cry. But the anticipated project, initially set for a July 2015 release, came and went with no delivery.
"Highly anticipated" is an inadequate descriptor for Blonde, an album for which fans waited seemingly interminably. Tonnes of web pages have been — and will be — filled with takes on whether 2012's Channel Orange earned the hype heaped on it upon its release. For a musician with such a young career, Frank Ocean has been defined by successes and failures in intersectionality surrounding race, class, sexuality and genre, and his self-marketing can be best defined as either haphazardly ad hoc or modern genius.
"Pink + White," one of the standout tracks from Frank Ocean's latest album, Blonde, would have fit nicely on his last proper album, 2012's Channel Orange. Indeed, the song's gentle, soulful, and slightly jazzy instrumentation, along with the 28-year-old R&B star's breezy crooning, are all what Ocean's legions of fans have come to expect from him (the song was produced by Ocean himself; his Odd Future cohort Tyler, the Creator; and star beat maker Pharrell Williams). .
It can be dangerous to fall under the trap of greatness. Frank Ocean has never been a controversial figure, and yet his four years of silence brought upon him a sizable amount of attention, the kind that he could ever conceive. The anticipation was crippling to say the least, but only because everyone knew that he was going to do something great. Frank Ocean wanted to do something great.
It should now be possible to separate Frank Ocean’s new album from the eye-poppingly pretentious way in which it was released. There were months of false starts, then a cryptic video about the album’s construction which showed Ocean lathing away at mysterious lumps of wood. There followed a 45-minute visual album called Endless, and finally the real thing emerged – in a physical version which included a 360-page magazine featuring an interview with his mum, and as an iTunes-only download (a snub to Jay-Z’s Tidal service and, as the veteran industry ranter Bob Lefsetz saw it, a snub to Ocean’s fans).
Languor, linger. I love you, interlude. There’s so much life in Endless and Blonde and there in between. Muttered words, birdsong, things falling apart, studio space clatter, voicemails, windblown interviews. Incidental noises. A hall with a hundred doors, each of them with a clearer world beyond ….
When music and meaning don’t fully click together like a neat stack of Lego bricks, ambiguity steps in. If a record is billed as being “open to interpretation’, that’s often code for “there’s not a great deal to see here, guys.” That’s not the case for Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’, an album that will be poked and prodded at by deep-thinking fans for years to come, and for good reason. Searching for ‘Blonde’’s true meaning is like fishing for treasure in the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s finally here. After a visual album, a magazine, countless rumors and years of silence, Frank Ocean finally returns to deliver his long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s Channel ORANGE, and frankly, it is nerve-wracking. This year alone, hip-hop and R&B fans have sat into the dark hours of the night, waiting for the not promoted, spontaneous releases of Drake’s Views, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo.
It's easy to look back fondly on the days when albums simply arrived as scheduled, following a circumscribed period of promotion and anticipation. Now they seem to materialize out of the ether or through clouds of manufactured smoke. Yet as exasperating as this process can be, it also provides another outlet from which the personality of the creator can manifest.
Frank Ocean fixed “Wolves.” No, really: Kanye was onto something when he called The Life of Pablo a “living album,” because — while he’s on the right track to keep it available solely in BitTorrent territory (or TIDAL hahaha), away from carbon-based corporeality — everything that lives must die. ‘Ye thought that leaving his album open-ended would keep it, theoretically, in the press cycle forever. But the man born Christopher Breaux has made clear that he understands mortality ever since he Imma-let-you-finish’d a minor Coldplay single to eulogize a “dying world.” So he doesn’t pretend that the duality inherent in his second studio album, Blonde, means it’s got a shot at outliving anything else.
Even before Frank Ocean fell quiet for the better part of four years, leaving a legion of fans to wonder when — if? — he'd ever muster a follow-up to his stunning 2012 debut, Channel Orange, the New Orleans-born pop savant was one of music's most elusive figures. He made his name, after all, by dodging tidy categorization, confounding expectation and disobeying prevailing rules of genre and sexuality. So it's only fitting that the roll-out for his new album, upon us at last, unfolded as a series of riddles, unpredictable detours and winks.
At first, Frank Ocean was simply a great storyteller. Then he became the story—an avatar for all of our fluid modern ideals. He could be the dynamic human of the future, exploding age-old binaries with an eloquent note, melting racial divisions with a devastating turn of phrase or quick flit to falsetto. He breathed hope.
Boys Don't Cry, the magazine distributed at pop-up locations the day this unlike-titled album was released, featured an essay in which Frank Ocean affably reflected upon his infatuation with cars. Allusions to parallels between vehicular travel and other aspects of life, such as making music, were drawn, his relief in completing the Channel Orange follow-up made apparent. For those who felt the proper debut wasn't forthcoming enough with hooks or traditionally structured songs, this is bound to seem less like a luxurious joyride on a freshly paved motorway than it does an interminable stay in a repair shop waiting lounge.
On Blonde, Frank Ocean returns with more tones of heartbreak, unrequited love, drug use and despondence — but while his 2012 debut Channel Orange was full of vivid storytelling, this new record’s lyrics dwell on the abstract more than the concrete. Even if you aren’t familiar the story behind Frank Ocean’s new music by now, the last six months of memes and complaints should tell you all you need to know: his fans have been waiting. After coming into the industry on the coattails of Odd Future and building a buzz since his 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra.
The shift from finite music formats to digital appeared to open a new world of possibilities for the album, but for the most part its parameters haven't changed that much. An album is still a series of songs that form single body of work and only rarely do musicians flaunt commercially acceptable ….
Frank Ocean was long overdue for new music. The singer made one of the decade's signature albums four years ago, "Channel Orange," and ever since anticipation for a follow-up has been building. Each year that passed without new Ocean heightened expectations to the point where some pundits were openly speculating a few months ago that no one could possibly live up to them.
“I feel like Selena,” Frank Ocean sings on “Futura Free”, “they wanna…murder me like Selena.” The “they” in that lyric is a thinly veiled reference to the R&B artist’s rabid fanbase, who’ve reached near apoplexy over and over again in the long wait for the follow-up to Channel Orange. All told, fours years (give or take a few weeks) isn’t that long a wait. But Frank hasn’t tried to soothe any nerves, quite the opposite in fact.
Since disappearing from the public eye, Frank Ocean’s aroused more intrigue, generated more content and provoked more discussion among fans and critics than some of the most visible and productive artists - churning out material, hits and media appearances - could even wish for. It makes you wonder. Maybe Frank Ocean’s been with us all along - as a mirror for ourselves.
For all of the immersive experiences surrounding a new Frank Ocean record—make that two new Frank Ocean records—the end product is surprisingly singular. In his visual album, Endless, stark black and white footage shows three different versions of him simultaneously constructing something in a ….
Let’s talk about the conflicting notion of “being present”. We live in an age where everyone talks about the benefits of being mindful and craves the pleasure of enjoying the now. The trouble is that we’re also in an age of immediacy, where it feels like anything we desire can be achieved ….
In this time of relentlessness and ubiquity, there is no art more potent, or shocking, than the art of disappearance. Silence may not be Frank Ocean’s greatest gift, but it’s one the R&B singer has wielded effectively for most of the four years since his last album, “Channel Orange.” The reactions to his evaporation from public life have been most intriguing to watch — his denial has been seen as a necessary balm against the scrutiny of fame, and then, after a while, a sort of insult, and finally, in the run-up to his just-released projects, a possible sign of failure on the horizon. Lest you mistake the silence of creative gestation for the silence of lethargy, Mr.
So much about Frank Ocean’s gripping new album, “Blonde,” seems to put it in line with recent high-profile records by Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kanye West, from its short-notice release to its limited availability to its expansive roster of collaborators. Push beyond the branding strategy, though, and actually listen to “Blonde” — which appeared in physical form Saturday at pop-up shops in four cities and can now be streamed or downloaded only through iTunes and Apple Music — and you quickly realize how different the R&B singer’s project is from “Lemonade,” “Anti” and “The Life of Pablo. ” This is a modal window.