Expectation: The long-awaited official follow up to 2012’s Channel Orange. Following an extensive and elaborate buildup, the album was surprise released just 2 days after Ocean’s Apple-exclusive visual album, Endless. While bearing some sonic similarities to Endless, it is clear that Blonde is its own project, and possibly even the “favorite child” to Frank, as he saved it to release independently rather than to fulfill his contract with his label.
- Nikes – Withholding his natural singing voice for the entire first track was certainly a bold move, but I feel that it pays off. The listener immediately knows that Frank has no interest in delivering what they want from him; it is clear that this is his album, and he will do whatever he wants. The autotuned rapping over acoustic guitar is cool as well, and the beat is great.
- Ivy – A fantastic vocal and lyrical showing over layers of reverberating electric guitars, followed by a very unique outro.
- Pink + White – The most Channel Orange-esque track on the album, and an all-around incredible track. The main bass line is fantastic, perfectly complimenting the prominent piano riff, and the acoustic guitar and hand percussion entrance on the second verse is one of my favorite musical moments of 2016.
- Be Yourself – Despite Frank referencing drug use throughout the album (including the first line of the following song), this doesn’t seem mean spirited; the peaceful instrumental seems to convey that, despite not heeding his friend’s mother’s warnings, Ocean appreciates the obvious concern and caring in the voicemail.
- Solo – Frank sing-raps over simple accompaniment from an organ, then delivers another astounding chorus which emphasizes both his range and his control over his voice.
- Skyline To – An exercise in tension and release; the low, pounding drums of the verses build quietly underneath the guitar and Frank’s vocals, before finally relenting just as the faint, airy string part begins. This is mirrored by the spacey synth break before the second verse, but this time synths remain in the instrumentation along with the lighter elements, building to the song’s finish.
- Self Control – My favorite uses of pitch-shifted vocals on the album, both for the intro and the chorus. The guitar part is suave and relaxed, and Frank’s vocals are sound fantastic. However, its the song’s outro that makes this my favorite track on the album: after only hearing only one voice at a time for the entire track, Frank doubles his voice to grab the listener’s attention before suddenly stacking on rich layers of harmonies and a swelling string arrangement. There’s also the bridge, which sounds almost like a talk box, but is strange and beautiful regardless.
- Good Guy – A quick, simple song detailing a failed first date. Not much on its own, but a nice contribution to the running theme of miscommunication in relationships.
- Nights – A nice R&B/hip hop track with a beat change on the exact halfway point of the album. The first part pulls some really cool sounds out of the guitars, while the second part is more sedated, featuring Frank rapping in a lightly pitch-shifted voice.
- Solo (Reprise) – Dear Lord, 3stacks. How do you do this?
- Pretty Sweet – The intro is almost too jarring, but the moment when the frantic swelling relents to gentle guitars and harmonious vocals makes it worth it. The drums and the child choir are pretty cool, too.
- Facebook Story – I typically skip this interlude, but the French guy has got a point.
- Close To You – Not a standout track, but it fits nicely into the album.
- White Ferrari – A beautiful and almost indescribable track, sounding almost how I imagine an acoustic ballad from the future.
- Seigfried – Another beautiful ballad, with a somber section near the end that is almost more of a monologue than a verse.
- Godspeed – An especially gospel-influenced track in both its melody and instrumentation. On any other album, this would be a standout track; here, its par for the course.
- Futura Free – Ocean ends his album with a sort of musical rant, first venting in stream of consciousness and then delivering more constructed, meditative verses about his rise to fame and how his life has changed. The album outro is an interview conducted by Frank’s younger brother over the same peaceful instrumentation as ‘Be Yourself’.
Overall: This album is not Channel Orange 2. There is, at most, one banger. In fact, I don’t think this album can even really be labeled R&B. Nothing here is meant to continue where Ocean left off in 2012 or even caters to a particular audience. However, Frank Ocean has created simple, intimate music that is miraculously original and unique. His melodies typically draw from pop and gospel as much as they do R&B, and his arrangements somehow make small, simple parts seem vast and expansive. The album feels like a private performance: every detail is distinct and clearly audible in the mix, and Ocean’s lyrics are personal and moving. The musical ideas he expresses are diverse and inventive without seeming intentionally weird, and the entire album is captivating and beautiful.