Standout tracks: Ivy, Pink + White, Solo, Self Control, Good Guy, Nights, Close To You, Seigfried, Godspeed and Futura Free
Genre: Frank Ocean
This this time last year Frank Ocean broke his four year musical hiatus with the release of Endless, a 45 minute visual album which both bemused and fascinated listeners in equal measure. After four years, an unfinished visual project with Frank appearing part way through, busying himself with the construction of what viewers presume is a set for a video perhaps. Dig a little deeper and it soon becomes apparent that Endless was the precursor to something greater.
Insert Blonde (often stylised ‘Blond’).
Before we deep into our review, we surveyed a couple of instant bystanders for their view on the album, have a listen below.
Opening with single ‘Nikes’ which was accompanied by the albums only visual. This is Frank at his creative peak; the disconnected, dreamy melody seems to be floating on water, looking out towards a jumbled mirage of sounds and colours. ‘Nikes’ boasts an array of tantalising images, including self-immolation, nudity, wild and glittery nights out and a rapping Chihuahua. The video also features a cameo by A$AP Rocky holding a photo of the late A$AP Yams, plus tributes to Pimp C and Trayvon Martin.
‘Ivy’ sees Blonde take a more pop-esque turn, a catchy ballad with a definable hook. This song evokes streams of emotion from listeners and on a personal level can be tear-jerker (depending on which way the wind blows).This avant-garde R&B tale of heartbreak is supported by riff-heavy electric guitar played by Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend.
“I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me”
Irrespective of you luck in love, this lyric is universal in its ability to captivate.
The summery shimmer of ‘Pink + White’ is highlighted by strings that pull back during the second verse and with backing vocals provided by Beyoncé on the outro. It’s easy to forget how stunningly smooth Ocean’s vocals can be; ‘Pink + White’ is a helpful reminder.
‘Nights’ is to Blonde, what ‘Pyramids’ is Channel Orange. From start to finish, ‘Nights’ features a marvel compiling a skip-along backbeat, an unavoidable hook and layers upon layers of crisp melody. Like ‘Pyramids’ it features a halfway point at which the entire make up of the song takes an about-face creating a stylistic masterpiece. It’s difficult to pay close attention to Ocean’s lyricism on this one as the beat takes precedence. What is even more remarkable about this track is that it appears to split the album in half. It arrives at exactly 30 minutes into the hour long album, the precise halfway point and if you listen carefully two contrasting emotions can be observed in the respect halves. The Frank who has arrived at love for the first time and is excited to explore the full spectrum of his identity (part 1) versus the Frank who is confused on how to move on from past lovers and distraught at the effort required to freely discover the depths of his character (part 2). Have a listen to the respective parts.
When Blonde closes with ‘Futura Free’, we arrive at Frank’s longest and most heartfelt cry for youth, this track feels like a depressed sigh of resignation and an welcoming acceptance of reality at the same time. It’s the sonic equivalent of flipping through your Facebook profile and reminiscing of a youth spent well prompted by com yearbook and feeling a pang when your eyes land on group photos and inked inside jokes. After the halfway mark, an old interview between Ocean and who we believe is his younger brother plays over the ‘Be Yourself’ instrumental. The bittersweet sentimentality of family, immaturity and dreams reaches a peak climax on ‘Futura Free’ — and Ocean feels it intensely.
Blonde is a deeply personal portrayal of the self, of life and of an unrequited yet achievable love. This album will no doubt live long in the memory for Frank Ocean fans, a true coming of age project in which the iconic R&B crooner realises his potential.