CRITICS’ CORNER ALBUM REVIEW: FRANK OCEAN — “BLONDE”

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I. Shank

Connor Harlan, Editor-in-Chief

CRITICS’ CORNER ALBUM REVIEW: FRANK OCEAN – “BLONDE”

There are plenty of ways to begin talking about Frank Ocean’s new album “Blonde,” but I find it strikingly appropriate to begin with a statement: Kanye West knows nothing about marketing. If anything has been proven, it’s that an artist can generate hype leading up to the release of an anticipated album without sacrificing one’s character, and one can also find creative ways to generate buzz. Ocean absolutely dominated this. With mysterious magazines, an Apple Music livestream known as “Endless,” (which was later released as a visual album, and a good one at that) and a surprise release of the album under the name of “Blonde,” Frank Ocean used the hype cycle following his sabbatical from the music industry. Following the release of “Channel Orange,” Ocean’s debut album, the world was sent into a frenzy for more music from the eclectic R&B singer. While “Channel Orange” was an idiosyncratic release for the genre, I simply wasn’t won over by its elaboration on an almost identical mixtape. “Blonde” takes a completely different route, and this new direction has led to what I’d call one of the best R&B albums in years.

The album begins with a dreamy instrumental that becomes the unsettling track “Nikes.” The track’s atmosphere is meditative, and pitch-shifted vocals give the song an eerie atmosphere. This is balanced by an equally dreamy love song, “Ivy.” This is the first of a string of songs so fantastic, flowing, and atmospheric, that they blend together into a soulful smoothie. It’s saccharine and hypnotic, channeling the sleek and beautiful voice of Stevie Wonder and the socially-adept lyrical offerings that are only accomplished by Frank himself. Love is certainly a theme on “Blonde,” but Frank’s depictions of it help the record establish an overall theme of reflection. This is shown especially in the skits, like “Be Yourself.” This small snippet features a sample of Ocean’s mother warning him of the dangers of drugs. This is revisited on “Solo,” my personal favorite song from the album, where Frank recalls an experience in a club while on LSD. The mention of the drug seems very deliberate, as “Solo” takes place in hindsight. Hindsight allows Frank’s retelling to be very multi-faceted, especially in expressions of regret, pain, and longing. While much of the record is sleepy and very much low-key, the monotony is broken up by straight pop beauty like “Pink + White.” On the other side of the spectrum, we have straight-up weird offerings, such as “Skyline To” a stream of consciousness track featuring intense vocal layering. The weirdness is also on the more quiet tracks like “Self Control,” one where Scandinavian Rapper Yung Lean gives a few lines that go over with much more success than it had any business doing. The only parts where I find the record faltering come in the later half on the tracks “Siegfried” and “Godspeed,” and while they are heavenly and have a unique atmosphere, I find them a bit too sleepy for my taste. The pace is picked up with the extravagant finisher, “Futura Free,” that plays out with the first half being another more upbeat R&B track detailing Ocean’s experiences since “Channel Orange,” and second half being a roller coaster ride of samples.

Frank Ocean managed to hook us all. He gave us a reason to care, and brought our attention to his art without obligating us, without belittling us, and without alienating us. He simply came through and delivered an amazing work of art, and it’s one not to be missed by any music listener. (Connor Harlan)