Frank Ocean’s music is a dream. It’s trancelike and foggy with only the occasional break of light. The artist’s sophomore album “Blond” has an overarching feeling of nostalgia and reflection. Give the album a chance, and it will pull at the heartstrings in the least cheesy, most terrifying way possible. Terrifying because the album is lyrically non-comforming while eliminating any possibility of viewing youth or love with any sort of façade. It’s real.
As anyone and their mother knows, it’s been four years since Frank Ocean released his freshmen debut “channel ORANGE”. Prior to releasing Blond on August 20th, he had repeatedly pushed back the announced release date with little to no explanation. Whatever the reasoning was, it only increased anticipation for the sophomore album. By the time the album was finally released, it seemed as if though the announcement triggered a nationwide holiday.
With millions tuning in at once, Frank did little to shock the audience on his first track Nikes. The track’s critique of materialism is fueled by autotune and a repetitive trancelike beat. While the track is nothing spectacular, it is good and it feels right. When Ocean’s voice finally breaks through in clarity over halfway through the song, it is like a breath of fresh air. Something suppressed over the last four years. That relief is soon replaced by the realization during the bridge of what this album is going to do. It’s going to hit hard. Repetition of the line “I’m not him but I’ll mean something to you” makes it clear that success and worship by anticipating fans has done nothing to change the artist’s lyrics. They are lonely, humble, insecure, realistic, twisted, and relatable.
“I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me”. The opening to the album’s second track “Ivy” produced by Jamie XX makes it clear that the dreamy production on the first track will continue during the duration of the album. It also promises to make you cry for both your first love and your next. The feelings of vulnerability that begin creeping in while listening are in no way stopped by the smooth and accepting way Ocean sings “we’ll never be those kids again”.
Ocean gracefully takes his foot off the pedal of our heartstrings with the third track “Pink & White” which features Beyonce. It is one of the few bright spots found on the album and seems to be a break in the clouds of Frank’s moody musings. It is catchy and reminiscent of some of his older releases such as “Novocane” and “Super Rich Kids”.
The fourth track is a quick recording regarding the dangers of drugs because when “people become weed-heads they become slugglish, lazy, stupid, and unconcerned”. Frank replies to this in his next track “Solo” by mentioning dirty dancing and being “gone off tabs of that acid”. In my opinion, one of the most memorable moments of the album occurs during the chorus when Ocean’s anguished, angelic voice sings the lines “It’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire. Inhale, in hell there’s heaven.” Those two lines seem to perfectly capture the essence of the album. The pain felt is undeniable, but the beauty created is unbelievable.
The dream that is the album continues relatively uninterrupted until the ninth track “Nights”. It is clear from the beginning, that this track is a pause from the vulnerability of the rest of the production. It is a sort of victory. The easy beat and the smooth way in which Ocean hits every note seems to indicate that he has finally found a relief from his musings and a lack of any worries. This quickly changes in the second part of the track when it turns into one of the most reflective moments of the album. Ending with the line “shut the fuck up. I don’t want your conversation.” Excluding the interlude of rhymes by Andre 3000 in the next track, that attitude seems to be the theme of the rest of the album. The next track “Pretty Sweet” is chaotic and vulnerable. After the clarity and joy found in the preceeding track, it is back to confusion and trust only in himself.
One of my favorite parts of the album is found towards the end with the two tracks “Close to You” and “White Ferrari”. The layered, etherealness of “Close to You” is reminiscent to the style of Bon Iver. Funny, because both Bon Iver and James Blake make appearances on the next track “White Ferrari”. My personal favorite. The track is a journey. Layered and broad. It is both beautiful and hard to listen. An incredible combination of the best each of the three artists have to offer. The trapped desperation found in the line “I care for you still and I will forever. That was my part of the deal, honest” is replaced by liberty during the final line in the track “We’re free to roam”. It's that sort of lyrical tranquility that makes each of the three artists legendary in their own ways.
“Futura Free” is the perfect outro song. It is a rambling but also a victory. The track opens with one of the few expressions of humor on the album with Ocean’s admission that “If I was being honest, I’d say long as I could fuck three times a day and not skip a meal, I’m good”. It is a relief to see that after the torment expressed in the album, Frank is able to end by rejoicing in the fact that he hasn’t had a job since 2009. No shit. However, even in his gladness, Ocean never loses his humility. He remains transparent in his statement that “I play these songs, it’s therapy momma, they paying me momma. I should be paying them. I should be paying y’all honest to God”
Ocean insists that he’s “just a guy, I’m not a god”. After listening to the album, it’s debatable. However, I’m sure he knows better than the rest of us. Either way, for being just a guy, Frank Ocean was somehow able to exceed four years of monumental anticipation and do it in a way that lacked gimmicks, flashiness, trends, or the insincerity that is so often prevalent when artists attempt to remain relevant. Rather, Frank Ocean exceeded our expectations on Blond by simply making great music.