by David Hurtado
“OK, IF ONE PERSON MANAGED TO STOP THEMSELVES FROM SPINNING THIS MORNING.. WHILE THE EARTH AND EVERYTHING KEEPS GOING.. WOULD THAT PERSON THEN GET SMASHED INTO BY THE OBJECTS AROUND HER AND CAUSE MASSIVE DESTRUCTION UPON IMPACT? OR IS THAT POOR PHYSICS?
i know, i know..quit asking dumb ass questions to the internet and drop your album. Haha”
–Frank Ocean, Tumblr post, 2016
“I wanna know what others hear, I’m scared to know but I wanna know what everyone hears when they talk to God. Do the insane hear the voice distorted? Do the indoctrinated hear another voice entirely?”
–Frank Ocean, Tumblr post 2016
“I got two versions. I got twoooo versions.”
And thus began the arduous wait for the second studio album of one this generation’s most cryptic artists. It wouldn’t be for nearly an entire year after this post on a mysterious new website that Ocean’s fans would have an album to play on a constant loop.
Yet, I believe this album extends far beyond the 17 song Apple Music version that, virtually upon its release, became a part of the contemporary pop/R&B canon.
Blonde begins where Channel Orange ends, and the first lyrics we encounter are those of Frank Ocean’s erratic Tumblr posts. From the lighthearted title of this piece, to the poignant reflection on the Orlando shooting earlier this year, Frank’s social media prose is essential to understanding the dark swirling vortex this album has come from.
Ocean then began the loop of Endless and the series of events culminating in the formal release of Blonde. Like many of Frank Ocean’s apostles, I was introduced to this multi-faceted project in pieces. A Tumblr account turned pseudo-erotic music video for “Nikes” seemed to materialize from an ambiguous haze Christopher Breaux spent months creating with his sporadic online presence.
The long resonant note; the first sonic texture we encounter on Blonde calls us to attention—we are beginning again. The “Ultralight Beam”-esque opener sets the tone for the stripped down, distorted album that has been in the works for four years.
Despite the departure from traditional R&B production, Ocean retains the storytelling ability that makes Channel Orange such a unique album. On “White Ferrari” Ocean takes us to the road: “Bad luck to talk on these rides / Mine on the road, / Your dilated eyes watch the clouds float.” These are the surreal, drug-induced rides that are so familiar to fans of Frank, reworked and played over a simple synth keeping in line with Blonde’s minimalist approach.
Lyrically, Ocean seems to stick to his themes of experience, transience, sexuality and love—but it is the production of Blonde that will set a lasting precedent in the genre. Midway through “Nights,” just as we slip into a Quaalude-inspired trance, the beat stops, lets you slip, catches you halfway down, and pulls you back into the gloomy narrative to remind you Frank Ocean can still rap.
“Seigfried” gives us sleepy guitar strums reminiscent of Kanye West’s outro collaboration with Frank on “New Slaves.” It is over these playful notes that Ocean delivers a fictional emotional retrospective: “Maybe I’m a fool, / Maybe I should move, / And settle, two kids and a swimming pool.” And yells, unrestrained, “I’m not brave, I’m not brave.” It’s this diversity in approach to lyricism and production—the experimental and vulnerable—that makes this a Frank Ocean album. Although, there are moments less captivating than “Pink +White”‘s bursting orchestral intro like “Pretty Sweet”’s overly-aggressive approach, there is something to be said for Frank Ocean’s commitment to presenting an unfiltered state of consciousness.
The twists and turns; the let downs and fruitless “Frank Ocean whereabouts” Google searches became just as much a piece of this album as the melancholy musical soundscape Ocean masterfully put together*. ‘Blonde’ pushes the boundaries of what an album entails. It is genuine, flawed, and innovative—just like the brain behind the sounds. Begin the loop again:
All you want is Nikes
But the real ones
Just like you
Just like me
* With the help of just about every innovative producer in the music industry. This includes the likes of Rick Rubin, James Blake, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Mike Dean and the list goes on. Don’t hesitate to explore the credits on this album.