On August 20, following the visual album "Endless", "Blonde" was released - the long-awaited third full release of Frank Ocean. At the request of Life around, music journalist Artyom Makarsky parses the album into its components and explains why it makes no sense to compare it with the previous Channel Orange.
Frank Ocean "Blonde"
Fans of the musician had been waiting for "Blonde" for far from a couple of months: for the first time, Frank Ocean announced the recording of a new album three and a half years ago. In November 2014, he showed the first draft in the form of a demo of the song "Memrise" (pretty good with all the discounts on the recording level). In April last year, he redirected from his website to the new boysdontcry.co domain and announced that he had two versions (carefully set hashtags hinted that the third album would be called “Boys Don't Cry” and will be released along with the first release of the same name magazine in July). In July 2015, nothing happened.
A year later, on July 2, Ocean laid out a library card with 17 missing dates, the last of which was July 2016. Despite the obvious clue about the release of the album in July, the fans did not wait again. On August 2, Apple Music's "Endless" stream appeared on the same site, where a person similar to Ocean (a day later it became clear that he was) was building something from wood and metal. A few days later, the musician made drawers with metal upholstery from these materials and painted them - at this the broadcast from the studio stopped until the 19th, when Ocean assembled a ladder from the drawers and climbed up it, after which everything stopped, and on the same Apple Music the visual album "Endless" was released. The next day, a video was released for the song "Nikes", and another day later - a full-length album "Blonde".
Now, when hysteria of an impossible scale, which is quickly disappearing, is being whipped up about almost any pop-cultural event on the Internet, it is easy to perceive something in accordance with your justified or unjustified expectations. "Blonde" in this sense is an ideal target: there is not what is usually understood as a pop hit, the music, at first glance, is too calm, the songs are openly called underdeveloped, and the tracklist makes you think that this is another disc, which became so long due to new streaming rules. Nevertheless, it is worth recalling the old words of the musician himself: "I believe in immortality. Obviously, the idea will survive hard drives. And the Internet." Of course, this is a harsh statement - but by this Ocean shows that he is ready to prefer thoughtful listening or viewing to emotional discussion. Is this article premature? According to Ocean - certainly yes. In the modern world - no, and this very well complements the image of a musician who prefers a phone to any messengers.
One of the main reasons why "Blonde" and the accompanying "Endless" and "Boys Don't Cry" for so long came out is the musician’s fundamental desire to make everything perfect. Even his release was delayed at the last moment only because The New York Times wrote about the original date, and the surprise would not have been a success. Any glitch in "Endless", any detail like leaving the studio in the song "Ivy", any text like a list of favorite songs - it’s all calculated, the author is happy with all of this.
Songs on "Blonde" have a non-standard structure, so they seem to not claim to be hits - but on Reddit they already say that at least "Pink + White" and "Ivy" are broadcast on radio in Australia. The songs here are not under-formatted - they are exactly what they should be. This, of course, is difficult to get used to - and the idea of giving him a few more auditions does not seem to be an excuse for the insolvency of the album, but an important piece of advice. The phrase thrown by Tom Sacks, an artist working with Ocean, in an interview: "This music is worth listening to with headphones," is also quite appropriate here.
In the aforementioned list of Ocean’s favorite music, there is, of course, a place for both Death Grips and Richard D. James’s Caustic Window project, but there is a lot of music in it that at first glance seems comfortable and convenient. One that you could hear, for example, in a coffee shop. This is a very misleading impression, and especially indicative in this regard of “Portrait Of Tracy” by Jaco Pastorius: a listener who does not know the context may not immediately understand that it was played on bass and that it is a very complex composition.
Ocean does the same on new albums (and especially on "Blonde"). Some things here are immediately noticeable, such as a change in voice or the abrupt start of the track "Pretty Sweet" (the latter, however, is not very different from the moment in the middle of "A Day in the Life"). But in fact, the difficulty is in simplification, the ability to throw away the excess, add unexpected elements like playing in the background songs (although Kanye and Drake already did this year), play in contrast, make the album full of details, like this: when in a song " Nights "everything pauses, the first half of" Blonde "ends up to the second. The main parallel that can be remembered here is the English post-punk of the early 80s, and first of all the band The Durutti Column with the same imaginary relaxation coupled with strong emotions. It's easy to believe that Ocean really listened to them - he spoke warmly about New Order and the Joy Division, and the rest of the Factory Records catalog was not far from there.
It cannot be said that Ocean has released a modest album - this is not at all true. Here Beyoncé performs at the hype, Kendrick Lamar becomes an inner voice and shouts out individual words, Andre 3000 gives a brilliant verse without any discounts, and one of the possible producers of "Blonde" Sebastian in the end only tells the story of how he broke up with the girl on facebook .
No matter how Ocean thinks about equality and other good things (see below), he clearly shows that he is in charge here, all this only works thanks to him. The work, according to him, is the best friend and assistant - it does not ask unnecessary questions and does not give obvious answers. Of course, "Blonde" in itself is an album about bewilderment, loneliness, the absence of something important. But Ocean is more confident than anyone else.
It is important that "Blonde" is a record of a person who can afford a lot. Here he uploads singer Kim Burrell to his blog, and five years later she sings with him in the song "Godspeed". Here he is attaching Elliott Smith to the post - and now he is quoting him in the song "Seigfried". No, he did not turn his toggle switch into an album - just a person really does what he wants in music.
With the release of "Blonde", everyone sharply forgot about the previous "Endless", but in vain: a visual album, with proper reading, can be considered a programmatic statement by the musician (since he allows himself such a pathos regarding the "main" album, why not apply the same logic to to his predecessor?)
"Endless" is about the "Untitled Unmastered" by Kendrick Lamar, a similarly unfinished collection of raw recordings, thanks to which you can understand from which litter the songs grow. However, the word “visual” is not just here. In fact, the stream preceding the album, from which the short 45-minute version was mounted, is a good example of an attempt to create video art as part of the mass segment of pop culture. Nearly everyone who works with Ocean describes what he does with the word "art." He is also an artist who acts through music.
This is not limited to mentioning Marina Abramovich in the tracks: as part of the creative barter, Ocean gives Tom Sax a couple of tracks for one of his boomboxes, and he lets him put him in the studio where "Endless" is shot. No less important is the collaboration with Wolfgang Tillmanns - but what exactly does Ocean want to say? Can an album also be a work of art? That making music is not much different for him from the work of a carpenter? The answer to this in the near future we clearly will not get.
Someone from the channel “Not Just Money” from “Channel Orange” returns with a narrative about the dangers of drugs to “Be Yourself”, the aforementioned producer Sebastian talks about how technology kills romance, and Frank's younger brother interviews him and him a friend-skater - all this under ambient in the spirit of Brian Eno, and in the latter case also under the wild noise of the street.
Why is this all? Does Ocean agree with what people say in these tiny pieces? So far, “Blonde” gives more reasons for questions than answers: even the list of participants in its creation is now replenished with the help of fans, and the name of each producer can appear on Wikipedia and disappear in half an hour. But the main themes of the album, however, are already being viewed.
Ocean puzzles the listener already the difference between the title and album cover - "Blonde" and "Blond", respectively. In French it is “blond” and “blonde” - while the fans, of course, want to believe that the album “Blond” is waiting for us soon, most likely Ocean wants to show us that gender separation is useless, that blonde and blond - This is the same. For Ocean, as for a bisexual, this is an important point - but there is a feeling that, in terms of texts, he does not want to focus on himself. He tries to avoid personal pronouns, and with the clip "Nikes" he shows that equality is important for him and the race, orientation and age of a person are not important.
There is a song on "Endless" about a guy who cheated on him - but maybe because of an overly personal one, she didn't get on the album. For a musician, this is a fundamental moment. Yes, there are songs that are dedicated specifically to his life (like "Futura Free"), he can mention the familiar attributes of luxury (especially the cars he adores), but in general these are just love songs. Anyone can understand them - the song "Pyramids" was suitable for this role much less than the same "Godspeed".
"Channel Orange" was a good album that moved R'n'B forward with seven-minute songs and thoughts on religion and the world around it - but in some ways it looks like a folder on your desktop that you could see on the screenshots on the blog Ocean: "museum2012". This is exactly what 2012, in spirit, mood, anything else - an important record, which is not the place here and now.
Ocean approaches the issue that is very important for any musician with due persistence - on “Blonde”, it seems, there is almost no acceptance that the album was released in 2016. Unless vapers are mentioned. It's not about the #blacklivesmatter, not about queer community, not about feminism - it's about a single person whose experiences, for the most part, were some of the peers of young Werther, but adjusted for marijuana, cars and much more . This is not a very universal and not entirely accessible record, but it seems to be much easier to understand through the years.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Boys Don't Cry is lists. The list of favorite movies, which is indicative, is twice as large as the list of songs - and it leads to certain thoughts. There, Ocean has almost no unexpected films, each of them is a classic. At the same time, this is an attempt to make a statement that is not immediately readable, but rather noticeable: each of these films is more or less about overcoming or exterminating borders, about leaving the comfort zone. Heroes and / or directors of paintings from the list pretend to impersonate others, rebel, show the absurdity of our reality with you, finally, just experiment with others and yourself. There are films devoted to the issue of masculinity, there are those related to violence, with the dark side in principle. There is only a couple (but important) dedicated to youth - all this in one or another theme of Ocean's new album. This does not mean that he makes the album like a film - but it means that first of all it is important for him to overcome the border, to jump above his head, to go in the direction that was not expected from him. It seems that at least he did it.
Photo: cover - Frank Ocean / Def Jam Recordings, 1 - Nabil Elderkin / Def Jam Recordings, 2 - Def Jam Recordings, 3 - www.boysdontcry.co