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Saturday, May 18, 2024
Blonde

Ocean lives up to hype and proves that great works take time. 

We’re back, and so is Frank Ocean, with ‘Blonde,’ the most hyped album of the year

Four years after his record-breaking Channel Orange, Frank Ocean returns with two new releases that find him writing his feelings alive and helping us cope with ours.  

Frank Ocean has always been the best storyteller, but this time around, we found him being the story—a muse for all our shifting views and free-flowing ideals. Ocean’s music can very well be the ways we come to perspective on the ways we love and live. Using race and gender-breaking binaries to keep a place for the rest of us, using his music as a barrier between the industry and himself, a fleeting falsetto to a dark joy, Ocean has returned to us in waves. 

Channel Orange was the first date, the night of the first kiss. Ocean left us wanting more. How he could give us new beginnings in just four minutes? The way he created a new world with our lives drawn into his music, waiting four years felt like a lifetime. 

Blonde, or Blond—the spelling of which is up for debate, and some say the spelling can be an underlying message of his bisexuality; the french female spelling is blonde and the male spelling is blond— is Frank Ocean’s latest release. Frank’s opening track, “Nikes,” takes on a faded ride down the third-eye perspective and is arguably one of the best tracks on the album. 

Blonde is something familiar, a longing that we haven’t felt since the first day of summer. In its own way, Blonde is Ocean’s bravest approach at self-reflection. Our experience throughout the album is filled with thoughts of love, feelings of loss, dependency and unfiltered emotions. Boys Don’t Cry, which was released along with the album, features screenshots of Internet histories, naked bodies on his sports car and unaltered interviews, giving us the honest truth behind his art and more reasons to coin  Blonde a new classic. 

Endless is Ocean’s visual release. With entirely new music aside from Blonde, Endless features 46 minutes of demo to demo songs that play seamlessly. Endless isn’t as exciting as we’d hope for, but it still touches on the rawness of what it means to put the art before the artist. In a way, the visual representation of Ocean building a spiral staircase is used as a concept of anti-promotion; the dullness of Endless is the art of the music, and the challenging concept to put the art before the press. Endless fulfilled Frank’s label contract; Blonde is a self-release, both exclusively released on Apple Music under his Boys Don’t Cry record label. 

The soul hasn’t left music yet. Frank captures our hearts from the beginning, “I’m not him, but I’ll mean something to you,” tears us open. A mellowed goodbye leaves the instrumental track and brings something new, “Ivy.” Those late night feelings before things became complicated, take us back to the softer side of Ocean’s nostalgia. “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me,” leaves us wondering where things went wrong with that quick first love on impulse. 

Blonde features impeccable transitions. “Pink + White” is the first time jet skiing. It’s a thrill; it’s tough, but it’s worth it. The song aims at happiness and the reliance of loving someone else. You could say it’s ironic that “Be Yourself” is the complete opposite. A voicemail message from “mom” leaves you questioning how scared parents are to watch their son or daughter grow up. Many of Ocean’s tracks are a stoner’s paradise, emptied instrumentals about rolling solo. “Solo” solidifies the existence of heaven, hell and harmful love. 

Ocean has this way of making peace a verb. “Nights” is a personal favorite. The midtempo beat flows like melting chocolate. The song reminds us about the actuality of life, the work that must go into everything you do and the reality that some people don’t wish the best karma for you.  It’s one of the album’s centerpieces; “rolling marijuana, that’s a cheap vacation” is one of the most relatable lyrics for our generation. 

Dirty south came stronger than ever with the only feature from Andre 3000. “Solo (Reprise)” is a jaw-dropping verse you’ll probably have to play twice. Andre’s verse looks back on his 20 years in the hip-hop industry and the lack of art discipline from the current frontrunners now, particularly Drake. His verse touches on his feelings and disappointment to those rappers who don’t write their own rhymes. “I’m hummin’ and whistlin’ to those not deserving/I’ve stumbled and lived every word/Was I working just way too hard,” could very well haunt those rappers that forgot the art and let the fame takeover. 

Nostalgia looks good on Ocean, especially when he’s fighting to remember himself. “White Ferrari” is a dark spirit, and Ocean is not letting him win. The song is a triumphant fight against despair, and it’s painted alive with an aching bitterness. At least Ocean didn’t settle, or what “Seigfried” suggests, “two kids and a swimming pool” gives us Frank at his most vulnerable. The song moves from his own thoughts to the nature of his thoughts with himself, God and a lost lover. “I’d do anything for you, in the dark” can be an underlying message for his rumored love affair with male model Willy Cartier. 

“Godspeed,” tiptoes like gospel mornings. He stays grounded in prayer and knows what broken love looks like; either with childhood, family, friends or lovers, this song takes on the spiritual journey of what it means to live present in the world and spread love to those around you. “Futura Free” is an honest Ocean. “I should be paying them, I should be paying ya’ll honest to God” is a closing conversation, and the best way to let us know the wait was worth it. The album concludes with old interview with some of Ocean’s friends. A keyboard plays faintly in the background while chatters fill the room. It’s a carefree kind of love and a sudden static sound takes over, like flashbacks in time. Ocean gives us another kind of light. A heartfelt yearning for the earlier days of our youth. A bittersweet and reflective outro. Ocean is still the story, the muse and the narrator of his own power. For us, this is a warm hello at Frank’s new music, and also a whiplash of reality that it might be another couple of years before Ocean gives us some much-needed clarity and meditation. 

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Blonde will go down as one of the best album releases of 2016. It’s a modern-day classic that gives us what most artists only attempt to reach today: truth and vulnerability, time in their art and the fulfillment of a whole project(s). He offers answers to his own questions, makes you ask even more and lets you live through the process. Endless and Blonde impeccably prove why the pushbacks and suspense were worth the wait, and why something as beautiful as Frank Ocean’s new music can only be done right with time.

Grade : A-

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