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08 - 23 - 2016

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FRANK OCEAN RETURNS WITH ‘BLONDE’

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Four years removed from the release of his critically acclaimed debut album “Channel Orange” and after a year of speculation and disappointment as to when his next album would drop, R&B artist Frank Ocean finally released his highly anticipated sophomore album “Blond” on Saturday, August 20.

Originally titled “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Blond” boasts 17 tracks, and a multitude of guest appearances (though they aren’t named in the song titles). According to the Independent, these guests include — among others — Beyoncé, Kanye West, Andre 3000 and Rick Rubin.

The opening track is “Nikes,” a single released a while before the album itself dropped, in conjunction with its music video. “Nikes” begins with a soft and contemplative synthetic drum beat, before a high-pitched voice begins a warbling verse about our society’s penchant for the titular shoes. Frank Ocean enters with his soft voice about halfway through the song, after a long list of “in memoriam” type tributes that touch on brands and people we’ve forgotten. The song changes in the last two minutes, adding a wandering guitar chord with Ocean’s quiet yet powerful voice overpowering it. Ocean speaks to an unidentified significant other, speaking to their dependence on and disrespect for one another, a haunting metaphor for the forgotten items and people named earlier.

Next is “Ivy,” which starts with Ocean’s usually high voice taking on a deeper octave, with a cheerful guitar riff flowing through the background. “Ivy” is whimsical of heartbreak and fake romanticism, topics that Ocean has proved time and again he is well versed on. The song is reflective, yet somewhat content take on the crystal clear hindsight one has after a negative relationship ends. Ocean sounds detached as if he’s accepted the reality of his situation. A raw yet poised song, “Ivy” is one of my favorites from “Blond,” especially since the end features the sounds of what I assume to be an angry Ocean destroying instruments and possibly memorabilia.

The third song is “Pink + White.” This song is heavy on the R&B and swing roots, and a more positive take on a relationship than the preceding song. “Pink + White” is a whimsical fairy tale, reminiscing on the good parts and experiences of a relationship. The high point of this song isn’t only the harmonies Ocean creates with his own voice and an unidentified female, but also the way he details a relationship through the eyes of his significant other, painting the world that is fittingly pink and white.

The fourth track, “Be Yourself” is the first of five songs that are on the shorter end, clocking in at less than one minute and 30 seconds. It begins with Ocean’s mother discussing people who go off to college and feel the need to change who they are. The song title serves as the oft-repeated piece of advice; which parallels with Ocean’s own image, as he has never shied away from expressing exactly who he is in an honest manner. The commentary, though serious, is given a lighter tone by the upbeat synth track that plays beneath it.

The message of “Be Yourself” plays perfectly into the tone of the following song, “Solo.” Whereas in “Be Yourself” Ocean’s mom warned him against using drugs, Ocean begins “Solo” with describing an acid trip and his other experiences from using various substances. Sonically, the music denotes the serious and lonely message of the song, which a dire organ arrangement serving as the backing movement. While the first half of this song describes the literal high of these trips, the second half becomes increasingly somber, as Ocean dejectedly details the physical and mental effects of the end of the trip. “Solo” is also a testament to the ways in which we are prevented from being on our own: there’s commentary on the social structures put in place to criminalize those who value their alone time, or — as described in the song — don’t live up to their responsibilities.

Following is “Skyline To,” beginning with Ocean’s crisp a cappella vocals that are soon blended with sounds of birds chirping and a deep guitar chord. The song soon evolves into a stream-of-consciousness style freestyle, with Ocean lamenting the end of summer, an appropriate metaphor that symbolizes the end of a serious romantic relationship. “Skyline To” is deceptively light and off the cuff, showing emotional weakness while still exposing Ocean’s vocal and lyrical prowess.

If there’s one thing I love when it comes to music, it’s songs that fade seamlessly together. This is what happens after the end of “Skyline To,” in which the chirping continues as the next song “Self Control” starts, featuring the aforementioned chirping and another higher-pitched vocalist. The funky acoustic guitar chords that have made appearances on previous songs really shines on this song. They direct Ocean as he croons about a particularly enticing significant other that he’s pining over. Between the acoustic chords, Ocean’s layered harmonies and the emotionally relatable lyrics, “Self Control” may be the best song on “Blond,” as it gradually fades out into nothingness, much like the relationship described.

The eighth song, “Good Guy,” is another short and sweet one. Featuring more organ runs and a static-sounding Ocean, “Good Guy” details realizing a pairing may not work out due to extreme differences. At barely over a minute long, the song is — as previously described — short, sweet and to the point.

Following is “Nights.” Sonically, the track contains some very rock sounding guitar and bass riffs, along with a simpler drumbeat that keeps the song moving. “Nights” is a rebellion against the tone and message of the previous eight songs. Instead of slow lamentations, “Nights” is a fast-paced track that focuses on the more positive aspects of relationships and life in general. The last few minutes of the song features a really nice guitar breakdown, before being replaced by a piano ballad and some softer — but still carefree — lyrics sung by one of the unnamed guest vocalists.

frank-ocean-blonde

The second half of “Blonde” starts off with “Solo (Reprise).” The flow on this song is ridiculously fast, placed over a dancing piano track and additional synth beats. As a reprise, it’s short but packed with references to our current culture and possibly some hints as to why the release of “Blond”e was oft-delayed.

Next is “Pretty Sweet.” This song starts off loud and chaotic, a hive of different sounds and instruments paired with Ocean’s desperate vocals. The song quiets slightly as Ocean moves into layered harmonies and runs. The different harmonies flow unbelievably well together as the song speeds up again, following Ocean detailing a mix of emotions: anxiety, disappointment, hope, and anguish.

Following is the short “Facebook Story,” featuring an unnamed French individual detailing meeting a female companion and the role that the social media platform Facebook played a heavy role in the breakdown of their relationship.

Immediately after is “Close to You,” a stuttering synth track that features Ocean playing the message of unnecessary jealousy and extreme closeness from “Facebook Story.” Ocean sounds exhausted and sad in making vague references to the fact that social media has had an increased effect on the quality, quantity, and tone of our romantic relationships in the past few years.

The fourteenth song on “Blonde” is “White Ferrari.” Another warbling synth track, this song is slow and contemplative, with Ocean turning back to his reflective tone as he remembers various drives (and one in particular) that dealt with saying goodbye to a loved one. You can hear the raw emotion as Ocean yearns for those drives and days to return, especially as he still cares about the former loved one. “White Ferrari” is beautiful in the way it portrays the confusion and multitude of thoughts Ocean are feeling by having multiple lyrical runs going on simultaneously. It is obvious there are still harbored feelings and regrets toward the way the relationship ended as Ocean ends the song in downcast acceptance.

Next is “Seigfried,” starting off with a few bass chords over static. The beginning gives you the image of a record player, furthered by the imagery Ocean paints with his lyrics of someone who sounds as though they belong in a different decade. “Seigfried” is a haunting ode to contemplating the idea of different choices in life leading to a different life altogether. As he discusses the possibilities, backed by an eerie string arrangement, Ocean sounds increasingly scared and content with the life he’s living, even if it isn’t perfect to others. In an appropriate parallel to the song’s title, its overall aura is therapeutic, with the air of getting one’s fears and doubts off one’s chest.

The penultimate song is “Godspeed.” This song is a lyrical follow-up to “Seigfried,” with Ocean confronting his doubts and fears but also coming to terms with them as he discusses them out loud. Though short and wandering, the overall message of “Godspeed” is one of acceptance and living your life as you see fit to your vision.

“Blonde” ends with the nine-minute track “Futura Free.” Sonically, this song is a piano ballad, a synth track, and a light R&B drumbeat. Completing the journey of acceptance he’s tried to work through, Ocean appears to finally come to terms with not only the end of a relationship but also with his presence in the public eye, social media and what that means for his future. Halfway through, the song fades into a false ending, before returning with a series of clipped and static-filled home tapes featuring a round of questions and vague answers from who sounds like Ocean through the years. It also could be random people from the street, but either way, it relates the overall message of leaving your future up to only yourself and the goals you want, refusing to give in to outside expectations.

Overall, I give “Blonde” a 9/10. With beautifully composed songs and the best of Ocean’s clean vocals, “Blonde” is unsurprisingly one of the best albums to be released this year. I only wish its release hasn’t been delayed so long and that the album didn’t feel bogged down with 17 mostly long songs. Either way, Ocean has avoided the “sophomore slump” with a strong showing.

TRACKS TO DEFINITELY LISTEN TO Ivy, Pink + White, Self Control, Nights, Close to You, Seigfried

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