Four Letter Nerd

4LN Album Review: Frank Ocean – Blond

frankoceanBLOND

Frank Ocean is a f**king genius. I’m not even willing to have an argument about this. There’s no conversation or dialogue to be had. This is a truth that you can either accept or simply get out of the way. There is no other R&B singer like him anywhere in the world. The closest you could maybe make a case for would be Childish Gambino, but I’d say he’s more Hip-Hop so it’s not a balanced comparison. (Because the Internet is a modern classic and I WON’T fight anyone who says different because liars aren’t worth wasting my energy over.)  Anyway, getting back to Frankie… the man is pure, unadulterated creativity. Having to wait 4 years between his critically acclaimed channel ORANGE and Blond has been all but physically painful. It’s finally here though, and it’s nothing short of a goddamn masterpiece.

Image result for frank ocean blonde

Now there’s a lot of industry-related controversy surrounding the release of Blond because he was previously signed to Def Jam/Universal but released a video album titled “Endless” that was put out 2 days before Blond, and reportedly satisfied his contract obligations with them. However… Endless is only available to stream on Apple Music. but Blond was released independently by Frank himself and is far more lucrative, potentially. It’s kind of a thing… So we’re just gonna pretend like Endless doesn’t exist because I feel like that’s the way Frank would want it.

The first single off the album is the first track, “Nikes”. It’s certainly not the type of song you’d imagine being a single, but Frank isn’t playing by traditional music business/label rules so if you understand that it makes complete sense. The track is addictive for sure, and stands out due to the high-pitched vocal effect Frank sings through for more than half the track. It almost gets into Chipmunks territory, but is grown-up enough lyrically that you stop hearing it that way after the initial listen.

 

The second track, “Ivy”, is one of my favorite songs on the whole album. It starts with a super catchy riff and adds some other atmospheric guitar parts, as well as a barely noticeable bass-line, throughout. There’s just something about the openness of the track. It’s not busy at all. Just the guitar maintaining the melody and Frank singing. Frank shows that he’s capable of crafting a great song without having to over-think it. It almost feels like it could’ve been a lost track from channel ORANGE. Or , maybe, it’s evidence of the evolution of Frank Ocean. The experimental qualities are more controlled and his voice sounds more matured. The lyrics express a lot of growth as well. The songs opens with, “I thought that I was dreamin’ when you said you loved me.” Later he sings, “I could hate you now. It’s quite alright to hate me now.” And, “I ain’t a kid no more. We’ll never be those kids again.” It’s not about lamenting the relationship, it’s about understanding what happened, how you’re honestly feeling, and accepting that when you grow apart it doesn’t matter how much you try to keep loving each other, you’re not the same people you were and that’s just a painful reality.

I’m not gonna do a track-by-track or anything, so tuck your fear of boredom away. I do want to mention the third track, “Pink + White” because to me it sounds like it could have been a track off of Tyler, the Creator’s Cherry Bomb that Tyler just forgot to jump in on. It’s a very pretty song with a light jazz vibe to it but a nice steady beat also. Maybe it just kind of reminds me a little of “Fucking Young” from that album. (Also, Tyler produced the song so, that’s probably… that’s DEFINITELY part of it.)

Moving down the album, we come to the song “Solo”, which, best I can tell, is just Frank and a B3 organ. This *might* be my favorite song on the entire record for 2 reasons. First, Frank’s voice sounds A-mazing on this track. Like, listening to it with headphones on and the volume cranked way up you can just really hear how much smoother he sounds and how his vocal control has improved significantly. There are plenty of other examples of that on the album, but this is just when I noticed it best. The other reason “Solo” is an “all-time fav” contender for me is because I. F**KING. LOVE. B3 ORGANS. For real. Like, my absolute favorite thing on Chance the Rapper’s whole Coloring Book album is this one little B3 part at the end of the “D.R.A.M. Sings Special” track. I guess it just takes me back to my childhood? When I’d go to church and the organ was a staple of praise & worship. That organ player would get to grooving and the choir would be singing and the church people would be shouting. Ah man. I may not be religious anymore, but, maybe it’s like a “you can take the boy out of the old-time gospel, but you can’t take the old-time gospel out of the boy” kind of thing. I’m getting tragically off-topic…

 

It’s tough for me to pick and choose tracks from this album to highlight because the entire thing is flawless, but I can’t talk about ALL of them cause I’ve had too much whiskey and need to go to bed, and you don’t have that much time to read. Unless you’re, like, reading this while you wait in line for the next available Best Buy Mobile “specialist” to assist you, in which case you have LOTS of time to read my extensive, “directors cut” ramblings about Blond with time left over to read Joe Hill’s phenomenal new 768-page novel “The Fireman” before anyone assists you. But I digress again…

The next stand-out track for me is “Self-Control.” It’s similar to “Ivy” in that it’s mostly just Frank and a guitar for the entirety of the song, but it’s different in that it doesn’t start off as experimental or atmospheric as “Ivy.” It feels like a mellow Eric Clapton track for the first half, but then it does pick up some of that wonderful organ I love so much and once that kicks in the track really opens up. Frank begins to sing, “I-I-I know you gotta leave-leave-leave. Take down some summer time. Give up, just tonight, night, night. I, I, I know you got someone comin’. You’re spitting game, oh you got it.” That small vocal bridge section is layered beautifully after the first time through and as soon as it hits you feel like the sky above you has opened up and that you’re being serenaded by angels. F**king ANGELS.

The track immediately following this one is called “Good Guy” and it’s a raw sounding interlude-type piece about a guy that Frank went on a blind date with (I’m guessing). That’s important because the whole album showcases Franks ambiguous sexuality. I presume he’d define himself as bisexual but I’m not gonna make any definitive statements regarding it cause it isn’t my place. He speaks well enough for himself through his art. Suffice to say, to be honest about your open sexuality in the arena of hip/hop and R&B culture you’d have to have balls the size of coconuts.

 

White Ferrari” is another beautiful song on the album. It borrows from the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” and features British singer/songwriter James Blake. It’s just very laid back. Most of this album is super chill, honestly. I think that helps make it more unique when you consider how everything on the radio right now is about how trap you can be and when the beat drops. Blond isn’t beholden to either of those trends. One of the last tracks on the record is “Godspeed” and sees Frank singing joyfully alongside more of that soulful organ. His voice drips into your very spirit when he says, “I let go of my claim on you.” I’m listening to it right now and it gives me chills. That’s just not something that mainstream pop music is prepared for. Partner that creative mindset with Franks unapologetic attitude and you begin to see why he isn’t a star. He’s a creator. He will outlast fads and flavor-of-the-week’s. He’ll still be creating new things when today’s “stars” only are collecting dwindling royalty checks.  Blond is not a response to anything. It’s not an album that marks a new era for music. It’s completely original, a beautiful anomaly, and birthed from a very honest place. It’s a window into who Frank Ocean, an artist, is at this moment right now in time. It’s remarkable. It’s undefinable. It’s untouchable.

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Stephen Andrew

Stephen has spent most of his life reading comics, watching horror movies, listening to death metal music, and speaking in the third person. His favorite comic book character is The Punisher, and he believes that the Punisher: War Zone movie is criminally underrated. His favorite film of all-time is National Lampoon's Vacation, and his favorite album is Pantera's "The Great Southern Trendkill".

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