Headphones: Frank Goes Blonde
What has been a long and maddening wait is finally over, Frank Ocean has finally given use the long anticipated follow up to Channel Orange with the release of Blonde on Saturday. Blonde is technically the 2nd album release in the past week from Frank, as he released the visual album Endless earlier in the week. In this week’s Headphones column, we’ll break down both, as well as the release altogether.
As mentioned, Frank first released Endless, the visual album first, to not much fanfare. The video is clips from the live stream that we have been covering for the past month of Frank in a workshop. He sparsely appeared on the screen, intently working on what turned out to be a staircase. Both the video and music were unspectacular at best. The music can be best described as background music to a dull black and white video. It appears to be mostly demos and unfinished versions of songs, with many timing out at under a minute. Prior to the release of Blonde, most found the video frustrating, with all flash with its Apple Music release and no flare with its musical content. The New York Times once again broke news that a 2nd album would follow, but many were still in doubt of its impending release. After all, how many times have I written about it coming out ‘this weekend’, let alone all the other release dates in the past four years. On Saturday, Frank finally delivered. For this week's Album of the Week, we break down 2016's most anticipated album.
Album of the Week: Blonde Let me start by saying this: Blonde is not a hip/hop album. So don’t go into it with that expectation. For those looking for a repeat of transcendent tracks similar to Pyramids or throbbing beats like Swim Good, you won’t find them here. There’s no bonafide radio hits or songs for DJ’s to turn out at the club. In Blonde, Frank comes into his own as a Soul/R&B artist, but declines to be restrained to any one category. The emphasis both superficially and contextually echoes that as well, beginning with the album title. When the cd initially became available through the magazine release, it was titled Blond, the masculine spelling of the word. On iTunes it is styled as Blonde, while the album cover has the former spelling, giving the album both spectrums of gender. Frank echoes this again in the music, often rapping/singing about his love for people of both genders. The album envelops this ideal of individuality and uniqueness. Nothing is set in stone. The music, the lyrics, his voice, the artwork, the dual albums: it’s all created under this unique perspective Frank has decided to master.
Musically, Frank never truly lets you settle in. When you get into his ballad singing voice, he quickly tweaks it, only in a myriad of ways, whether it be auto tune, rapping, or spine tingling backing vocals. The backing music and production follows suit. Almost every track finds itself split in two, where halfway the production changes entirely. All to often, you’ll find yourself looking at your phone to check the new song title only to find that it’s the same track half way through. Not enough can be said, or put into words about the work/concepts Frank has unveiled with this iconic release.
Hip/Hop: No Limit – Usher ft. Young Thug: Check out the hottest track from Usher’s highly anticipated Flawed album.
Country: 80’s Mercedes – Maren Morris: This Country newcomer seems to have a lot of potential, and vocals, to quickly climb the ladder to superstardom. Check out her new song about her real life dream car.
Pop: Cruel – Snakehips ft. Zayn: The One Direction alumni hops onto this track to add to his catalog of 2016 hits, as he dances his way through an underground club.
R&B: Nikes – Frank Ocean: For this week’s R&B selection, we encourage you to check out Frank’s latest visual masterpiece with the video for Nikes. Unfortunately, the video is not available on multiple formats as of yet. Check it out on Apple Music, which exclusively has the rights to Blonde.
Noteworthy: Was it Worth the Wait?: For weeks on twitter, in lieu of the numerous failed release dates, fans have been left infuriated and enraged. Many protested the album (albeit in spite) for Frank making them wait so long. However, now that Blonde is out, how should they feel. In earnest, they should get over it. Great work takes time, and Frank tried to explain this with the Endless video. While the dull video seemed to be fruitless in its content, it served as an olive branch prior to the Blonde release. He gave us a little something for the wait, showed some face, and above all tried to make us understand this: I will deliver, but on my own terms. Deadlines and expectations have the ability to derail any project, and Frank has protected his work from these externalities from shying away for these four years. He didn’t let fans or fame dictate his release, style or mentality. He instead stayed busy at work, perfecting his art until he deemed it acceptable to share with the world. Well done Frank Ocean, not only for presenting the world with a memorable album, but reminding it that it doesn’t have to be defined or boxed in, pushed around or told what to do. Be what you want to be and do what you want to do, that’s what Frank’s telling us here.