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Frank Ocean changes his hue on ‘Blonde’

| Wednesday, August 31, 2016

frank ocean webLINDSEY MEYER | The Observer

Alas, after four years of hiding, singer-songwriter Frank Ocean finally dropped the highly anticipated “Blonde.” The album was released independently by Mr. Ocean roughly 24 hours after his visual project “Endless,” a much more abstract and loose piece of work relative to “Blonde.”

Following the incredible success of Ocean’s “Channel Orange,” fans had a lot to expect from “Blonde” in terms of its production and collaborators. However, they shouldn’t get too excited. With more than 45 A-list artists being officially credited for their work on “Blonde,” one would expect the production to blossom into symphonies of textures and compositions. However, “Blonde” delivers the opposite — Ocean stripped down his sound to the bare bones with drums being used in four of the 17 tracks.

At the start of the album, Ocean throws his audience a curveball. Mellow, ambient vibes underly his use of a very high-pitched “chipmunk” version of his voice. This voice carries on for nearly the entirety of the track and is something that we’re not really used to getting from Ocean. He makes vague suggestions to drug use and love throughout the track with lyrics like “Acid on me like the rain / Weed crumbles into glitter” and “He don’t care for me / But he cares for me / And that’s good enough.” These themes become common tropes throughout the album, continuing into tracks such as “Be Yourself” and “Solo.”

In “Be Yourself,” there seems to be a voicemail left by his mother that made it into the track list in which she tells him to stay away from drugs and to be himself. In the following track, “Solo,” Frank Ocean talks about his drug use saying: “Gone off tabs of that acid […] My eyes like them red lights.”

The track “Ivy” brings in a Beach Boys vibe and is relatively “poppy” compared to the rest of the album. Surprisingly, The Beatles were credited for production on the similar sounding track “White Ferrari.” The album is guitar driven, and the tone wavers between joyful and melancholic. The dreamy, reverberating guitar on “Skyline To” guides the listener into a state of ecstasy, especially when the theremin comes in. In “Pretty Sweet,” an overdriven guitar guides the track into a mellow punk state combining bass and drums. Echoing Frank’s conflicted tone throughout the album, the listener is left in a state of limbo.

“Blonde” keeps you on your toes as you attempt to follow Ocean’s stream of consciousness. The production on “Blonde” is simple, but it evolves subtly in most of its tracks. “Nights” goes from a melancholic pop song into a Bryson Tiller “TRAPSOUL”-esque track.

It’s hard to account for the contributions that 46 artists made to the album, but the credits are clear in “Solo (Reprise).” Andre 3000 comes in with an amazing feature in the 90-second song. Starting with an aggressive piano progression, the track evolves into a “Yeezus”-esque 808 breakdown.

The other track where we hear another tangible voice is “Pink+White.” This track is the closest “Blonde” gets to “Channel Orange.” The indie rock-inspired track spends its duration evolving: Frank sings over a smooth guitar and piano progression as Beyoncé eases her way into the instrumental with a slow crescendo that blossoms with a swell of violins and various other orchestral instruments.

As a musical album, Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” will not shock an audience. It is much more of a soundtrack than it is an album. It takes time to grow on its listener. As a piece of art — as a performance, this is arguably the best 2016 has to offer. Ocean manages to take the listener somewhere he or she has never been before — a place that only Frank Ocean and his enigmatic poetry combined with simple, yet intricate instrumentals can take you.

4.5/5 Shamrocks

Track: “Nights,” “Solo,” “Pink+White”

If you like: FKA Twigs, JMSN, Blood ORange

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