I think it’s safe to say the world can agree very little good came out of Hurricane Katrina, lives were lost, a city and its culture decimated and we all learned that, as Kanye West put it, George Bush doesn’t care about black people. This tragedy is made all the worse by the fact that, from what has happened in Baton Rogue in 2016, lessons weren’t learned. Despite all the immense sadness of Hurricane Katrina one small ray of light came from that disaster that light is the career of one Frank Ocean.
In 2008 Christopher Francis Ocean was a freshly enrolled student about to start university in New Orleans, after Katrina hit, Christopher’s accommodation, university and home studio were all under water. The tragedy prompted a re-think and a move to L.A to start a music career. A chance meeting with Tyler the Creator helped further fuel Ocean’s fire and from all of this the award winning and globally acclaimed debut album Channel Orange was born.
Then, after all of this…nothing. Fans were kept waiting, fans were often trolled, zero media was given, many false rumours were overheard, deadlines were missed, a visual album arrived, which felt like a marketing stunt. Then, finally on August 20th 2016, after a lot of nothing, the world got a new Frank Ocean album; Blond.
The album opens with new single Nikes. It’s a perfect album opener kicking off with auto-tuned, high pitched almost un-intelligible vocals, until around half way through the song, when Frank’s voice kicks in. And what a voice it remains, soulful, mournful and rich it hits the listener like a tsunami of honey.
The production on Nikes is slightly weird and darker than anything on Channel Orange and goes some way to highlight the overall feel of the album itself. Sure the Beach Boys and Beatles influences are still present in Ocean’s vocal harmonies but beats wise this is a darker beast and certainly a product of its influences and contributors. Who Ocean claims includes: Jamie XX, Arca and SebastiAN.
The album does feel claustrophobic but intentionally so, with the subject of many of the tracks turning inwards onto Ocean himself. There is however still room for plenty of Ocean-isms like Seigfried’s: “I’m living an idea, an idea from another man’s mind” or the same track’s reflection on: “Two kids and a swimming pool”. Ocean’s world remains one of constant self-questioning.
Stand out track and surely second single White Ferrari has all the hallmarks of being a huge hit. Lyrically it has a similar vibe to tracks like American Wedding, forbidden relationships. It’s a subject, which Frank frequently returns to and one which is prominent again on Blond.
If there is a criticism of Blond it is that Ocean’s subject matter is all too often same-y and self-reflective. Given everything that has happened in America in the last 4 years, it would have been nice to see Frank offer his voice on the subject. Instead any social commentary is reserved to a handful of segments mostly on opening track Nikes with its references to Trayvon Martin.
Blond is dotted with interludes, which set out to make a grand point about either drug use or relationships. However the most enjoyable element of these interludes is the looped backing track, which is itself beautiful. It feels a shame that its melody is wasted behind pseudo-social rambling.
Closing track Futura-Free is another stand out at 9 minutes it may feel long but much like Pyramids the track is broken into segments and there is a lot taking place, so the listener is never bored. The production on Futura Free is also open and allows the track to breathe more, giving the album a positive though still self-reflective close. The track ends with distorted elements of what sounds like vox-popped interviews on life’s big questions such as; what was your first memory? This is all looped over a beautiful melody. The answers given are childlike and joyous contributing to the overall positivity of the track. Futura Free might be the most complex track on here but it is also one of the most beautiful. And that description really does sum up Blond (and Mr Ocean himself) beautiful but complex.
-apple music exclusive so follow the link below for the video to nikes, cheers steve jobs.