By: Sam Fleming
Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange and Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy are the only two albums that I feel truly changed my life. Maybe it is because I have played both so many times that they have soundtracked infinitely many memorable moments of my last few years, but both albums hold a special place in my heart and are critically acclaimed, groundbreaking projects from genre-defying artists.
To me, what makes Channel Orange special is that it creates its own parallel universe, while staying grounded in the real world. Channel Orange brought me into the life of the stripper on “Pyramids,” or into the lavish yet depressed lives of privileged Californian kids on, “Super Rich Kids.” Most artists try to do this, but Frank Ocean has mastered it. His newest album, Blonde, immerses you into a peaceful, lonely paradise and proves, yet again, why he is one of the best songwriters of our generation.
Frank Ocean has made such an elusive and mysterious persona for himself that Blonde feels like a gift from god. It is so simple yet effortlessly deep. From the opening synths on “Nikes” to the closing skit on “Futura Free” the album feels bigger than life.
There was nothing conventional about Blonde’s release. After years of seeming broken promises to fans and speculation about whether or not a new album would ever be released, one morning a strange visual album Endless appeared on Apple Music. Endless is stunning in its own right and it’s tragic that it is getting almost completely overlooked in favor of Blonde. They go hand-in-hand and if you loved the complex instrumentals of Channel Orange, Endless may be more accessible for you. The next day, Endless was followed by Frank Ocean’s third official studio album, Blonde.
Blonde is significantly different from Endless and nothing like Channel Orange. In fact, it may be almost the opposite. While Channel Orange had catchy summery melodies, Blonde has a strange beauty that can be felt best in its sparseness. On many tracks Ocean is singing almost acapella, with only an organ or a guitar in the background, and on others his voice is pitched so far up it is almost unrecognizable.
Blonde is by far Frank Ocean’s most experimental album yet, with many songs following no clear structure. In the first track of the album, a clear standout, “Nikes,” the hook only appears once in the entire song, his real voice doesn’t appear until after three minutes in, and it ends with a verse in Japanese. Blonde is like wandering through Ocean’s thoughts and dreams. It feels we’re getting a more relaxed and reflective version of Frank Ocean.
Every song on Blonde is unique, however, they all revolve around the same central feeling: A feeling of aloneness and reflection. Whether he is singing, “If I could see through walls I could see you’re faking” on “Ivy” or “I should be paying y’all honest to/God I’m just a guy I’m not a god” on “Futura Free” he is coming to terms with the respect and fame he has earned, and reflecting on how life has changed. He is not hopping on trends or creating new political commentary, but when he sings “RIP Trayvon/that nigga looked just like me” on “Nikes”, you can feel the pain in his voice.
Frank Ocean is changing what most people think of as popular music. Blonde, a meditative album with no physical release, where many songs do not even have any instrumentation other than a guitar, is set to be the number one album in the country. That shows a lot about Frank Ocean’s power as an artist, as well as his ability to market himself in a way that connects with other people.
Blonde is an incredible album that gets better with every listen. Frank Ocean takes you into his headspace and shows you the magic of his world. With Channel Orange getting the incredible reception that it did and so much hype surrounding Frank Ocean’s next release, it is astonishing that he was not only to live up to the hype, but surpass it.
Photo: Blonde album cover