1 November 2016

Frank Ocean - Blonde

I am not too sure why I am looking into this music of Mr Ocean once again, I guess it is because I have received a request from a fan for my take on the myth that is Frank Ocean and his recent output.  I have decided not to pick both albums to be honest, I am sure that 'Endless' might be great or even the better album, but I picked one at random and 'Endless' is billed as a visual album and this is an album in the traditional sense of the word.  Now a long while ago, when the blog was just a new baby fallow in the world I looked at 'Channel Ocean' (review embarrassingly linked here) and I was a little underwhelmed to be honest (when I first listened to it, I actually fucked hated it).  So, I have always been a mixture of curious and not too bothered with the idea of listening to any new music from Frank Ocean.  But to be honest, I need a little change from the metal and alternative rock I have been listening to.  So, it is four years since 'Channel Ocean' was unleashed and the man has gain an almost legendary status in some groups, but I am not too sure if it is a lot of hype too soon in some ways; let us be honest, this is a seventeen-track album with a lot of short songs to be honest.  I am trying not to be negative in some ways, but I am ready to be impressed and I also am ready to be not too sure either - so let us find out what this album is about....

01 - Nikes

This starts with a slow bass/drum beat and a high-pitched, almost chipmunk vocals are playing on in the background.  It does not explode, but eventually we hear the real voice of Frank Ocean who does have a voice that could make the boring subject sound interesting at the very least.  For such a minimalist number, there is a hell of a lot of effects happening on the vocals and in the synths.  It feels cold and empty to be honest and the first vocal section just makes it hard to engage with from the beginning.

02 - Ivy

This song is a hell of a lot better, even from the beginning when you can hear those vocals, it just makes a hell of a lot more sense.  It is more of the same sort of minimalist R&B noise which does hark back to a bit of an earlier time with the guitar sounding like it could charm the devils to heaven and vice versa......and then it has a screeching ending that fucks it.  A shame really, it did not have to have a gentle ending of anything like that, but that ending stops the interest in the track - the extra effects take a brilliant song and ruined it in the end.

03 - Pink + White

The spirit of Prince starts this song, the song starts with a piano hook that gently nudges your attention as Mr Ocean, with a song that feels like a summer's day and you are neat the beach and feeling completive.  Produced by Pharrell Williams and featuring an uncredited performance from Beyoncé Knowles, it is the first song that is not messed around with and from beginning to finish it is a solid and gentle song that keeps the focus on the vocals and the music and effects are a secondary thought that is supportive and not domineering.  It has been labelled as a possible sequel to two of his previous songs ('White' & 'Pink Matter' from 'Channel Orange'), having giving both a quick listen just to see if this is true, it could be a combination of both - a great track.

04 - Be Yourself

This is the first skint of the album, a voice mail from a mother to her child preaching the evils of drugs both legal and illegal.  These are words that are asking the person to be someone else is a message which will either be mocked or understood; it is the first time I have listened to a skit and understood the principal behind it, it is a good one.

05 - Solo

A song about the demons of the middle of the night catching up with you when you are solo (or so low), when getting high feels like an option to stop the loneliness from consuming you.  It is a song that goes through those emotional peaks, troughs, highs and lows to an incredibly intense degree.  It is another song where vocal effects are kept to a minimal and it is another thought provoking song that sticks around a lot longer than other songs on the album as its minimal approach and background are set just so right. 

06 - Sky To

Featuring vocals and production from Kendrick Duckworth (AKA Kendrick Lamar) and keeping the minimal avant-garde R&B going from 'Solo', 'Sky To' is a song about random thoughts to do with sex & drugs that are swimming around Mr Ocean's head and it is gently laced over the music with a sense of grace and beauty.  It is not politically charged or anything, it is just a gentle and thoughtful tune.  It is not bad, but it is in keeping with the album so far.

07 - Self Control

A song about aiming for the stars (or a person who attracts you) and missing spectacularly, it features guest appearances from Austin Feinstien from the band Slow Hollows and Swedish rapper Yung Lean.  It is a good number which does rely on vocal effects once again and sometimes it works (especially towards the end) and sometimes it does not (at the very beginning).  But much like aiming for the stars, you miss them sometimes as well.

08 - Good Guy

Another small skint/song which deals about a blind date with a man that Frank Ocean went on that did not work out the way he was hoping.  The part feels like it was demo that was kept in its original form as that is the perfect way for it work.  At the end is another clip of two people talking about not being able to get things working how it used to in their life and the conversation cuts off before you hear its natural conclusion.  It is an interesting skint, but no more than that.

09 - Nights

'Nights' is a song in two halves - with a very distinct split between the first and second sections.  The first song deals with a relationship with was formed after the family originally from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina forced them to Houston.  It could have easily been two separate songs, but having them both together that makes a lot of sense; but it shows the after effects of the relationship being over and a catch-up years later before you find out what it is all about.  The first half is a lot better, but both are essential to the other to give this album a beautiful and contrasting song.

10 - Solo (Reprise)

This is a song which is performed by André 3000 from OutKast and it is over in just under two minutes and it is full of so many lyrics that it is a fantastic song.  It is an aggressive rap that sounds like a machine spitting out rhymes as fast as possible and being reflective at the same time.  It is a really good track; in fact, it is one of the best tracks of the album to be honest as it has such a presence.

11 - Pretty Sweet

Like a reverse reversion of The Beatles 'A Day in The Life', 'Pretty Sweet' messes around with sounds and textures that he challenges what the concept of a song is, going between various styles during its brief existence and because it is constantly changing, it does not get a nature rhythm and it never feels settled or as if it has its attention on anything at all.

12 - Facebook Story

This is a skit which features producer SebastiAn who was in a relationship when Facebook first started to get big and it fell apart when he was not adding her as a Facebook friend as she was there in front of her and it made her question his fidelity and she was not able to trust him.  From his point of view, he did not want to do this as he was in front of her, with her all of the time and to accept her virtual request it was not required as he was already there.  A thought provoking track, with minimal music in the background.

13 - Close to You

Another sub two-minute song, this cover of the Steve Wonder song (originally wrote by Burt Bacharach and Hal David) is all about being able to touch and comfort a lover which is in direct contrast to the connection that the lady wanted on 'Facebook Story', so these two tracks are natural twins which make more sense once you have reached the next song.  I do wish the vocal effects were stripped back a little bit, but that is because a great voice does not always need to be cloaked so much.

14 - White Ferrari

Now this song sounds like a mixture of Mr Ocean's own mind and Icelandic legends Sigur Rós, it has a deep atmospheric feeling and is more focused and grounded than some other elements of this album.  I was starting to drift a little from the album and this song just brings you back in.  It is the highlight of the album; it has such a fantastic sound and the vocals are mixed perfectly.  It has natural passages and effects when required and not beforehand.  The lyrics are open to interpretation and it just showcases Frank Ocean at his best.

15 - Seigfried

A song about a relationship that is over and one of the people is debating with himself what to do next as it is.  In a similar vein to 'White Ferrari', it is a strange and dark track with self-doubt, hunger, belief and comparison to over people and trying to find a way to make everything better (be it with chemicals or crying).  It is a very emotive song and one which is already being touted as a potential Grammy winner, but is the prize winning the goal of this song?  No, it is the cathartic release and it works very well in that respect. I like this track as well; its minimal feeling and dark currents are tragic with beauty and it is all mixes into this fantastic mixture of pain and release.

16 - Godspeed

The penultimate song of the album is another two minute plus piece, another love plea and shout out to the dark that is sometimes required, especially when you are wishing someone well who will never hear the words unless it is posted to them in a letter.  It is a heartbreaker and a fascinating number that is perfectly formed, the ending of this album is proving to be music better than the beginning of the record.

17 - Futura Free

Now this is a long track, over nine minutes in length and it is another song that is split once again into two separate and distinct sections.  The first is a stream of consciousness that is placed over a muffed section of music and the vocals and put through the vocal effect machine once again.  After a silence pause, the second section is an old interview conducted by Frank’s younger brother Ryan Breaux, featuring Illegal Civilization members: Mikey Alfred, Sage Elsesser and Na-kel Smith.  I can see why this was the ending track for the album, but after some of the best slices of work from Frank Ocean, it does not work on the same level for me, but it is still a good song that could have used a little less production on the music and vocals.

This is an album for the long dark nights when you need a companion to know that you are not the only person in the world who is in pain.  It is a lot better than 'Channel Orange' and it shows that there has been a lot of change and focus with a young artist who is growing up in front of the world.  The man does have a lot of talents and he is surrounded by some great producers on this record and at times it is one of the best pieces of R&B/Pop that I have heard this year.  But then, there is the flip side of the coin; for an album that is so minimal, there are times when it is over produced and the sound is either muffled or the vocals sound as if it might as well be a machine instead of one of the best vocalist of his generations laying down the grooves.  With that said, I can see why this album is getting the praise that it is receiving, I can see why it is getting tributes and glories.  But it is not an album of the year for me, it is a good album and one which I will return to as some of the tracks on the latter half of the album are brilliant.  I like that Frank Ocean has taken control of his destiny and I await his next work with anticipation as he is improving with each work, so his next one should be glorious.

7.5 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out

Top track - White Ferrari

You can visit the Frank Ocean website here.

You can stream Blonde on Spotify here.

You can purchase Blonde on iTunes here.

At the time of writing - there is no Facebook for Frank Ocean, the album is not on Amazon, Deezer or Tidal.  The above links might change as well; I sort of like this approach as the man is taking control of what he does.

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