AUGUST 20TH / BOYS DON’T CRY / LOVE
Four years ago I was nineteen years old working a dead end part time job at the local cinema. Shovelling popcorn and hearing “the customer is always right!” over and over was parts of what kept me existing on this world. At the same time, Frank Ocean released ‘Channel Orange’ and became the new face of RnB. It was a record that elevated it’s genre and was met with universal applause. It’s infectious atmosphere came with a collection of dancefloor hits and laid back tunes and also stocked the deep cuts with a sense of ambition that took the eardrums to dizzying heights.
The past four years witnessed delay after delay with the follow up to ‘Channel Orange’ but finally, after livestreams of carpentry, a visual album and a whole lot of buzz, /r/FrankOcean became the happiest place in the world. Complete with a hugely impressive roster of contributors Blonde was released to the world, and while this world has changed dramatically politically or musically over the past four years, the record manages to fit right into this disjointed society with an equally compelling performance.
Blonde strips away the nightclub-tinged sounds of ‘Channel Orange’ and chooses just a handful of instruments to contribute to its sound. It’s stripped-back environment comes sparingly decorated with hints of groove and the lightest dustings of pop, all encumbered with an overwhelming amount of minimalism. ‘Nikes’ kicks off the record with a mid-paced drum beat and a synthesiser which delivers the most subtle of sounds. A pitch-shifted vocal leads the way with a delivery that washes over the atmosphere with ease and while it might drag a little too much, it does maintain a rigid and enjoyable groove throughout. Lyrics referencing Trayvon Martin immediately bring relevancy to the record despite the young man’s death occurring four years ago as relations between black people and the police force of America continue to remain volatile to this day.
The record comes across as the sonic display of the human mind. It contains an abundance of anxiety which embeds the huge amount of space that shrouds it, with touches of confidence and gusto which collides immediately with references and refrains of depression and regret. Whether or not the regret comes from the constant delays the record has had, or from Frank’s life over the past four years, this record is stained heavily with his emotions.
From the chest-swelling sounds of ‘Pink + White’ to the immediate broken promise that follows ‘Be Yourself’ (Mum’s gonna be pissed, Frank) Blonde takes on the personality of somebody who’s forever dealing with overthinking. This is reflected perfectly on the track ‘Skyline To’ which sees Frank duel lines with his alter-ego (played by Kendrick Lamar) which eventually ends with Frank returning back to his conscious on top of confused piano keys. He soon battles with his stability on ‘Pretty Sweet’ (Akin to Kendrick’s ‘u’) before becoming almost completely alone in the scintillating ‘Seigfried’ which sees him decide whether or not to simply settle for the wife-and-two-kids life.
Like any human being, it has touches of confidence but comes crashing down immediately with reflections of anxiety and depression. A lot can happen in four years, and this is a record that succeeds in illustrating nearly all of the emotion somebody can feel in that timeframe. Blonde is a record that needs to be heard with patience, as it comes with a front so different from ‘Channel Orange’ that it could turn off fans immediately. Having patience and repeated listens allows it to reveal it’s high level of depth and emotion on top of all the little subtleties it holds close to it’s heart. It’s a great record, welcome back Frank.