By: Drew Allen//
There are not many dates permanently ingrained in my mind, but I will never forget the wait that took place from July 17, 2012 — August 20th, 2016. Since the release of Frank’s debut studio album Channel Orange, it felt as if a whole lifetime passed us by. My imagination ran wild throughout the years of his absence: where did he go? Is he ever coming back? Was Channel Orange just a figment of my imagination? Fast forward to Saturday, August 20th, 2016: summer was quietly slipping away, the sky was beginning to turn pink even though it was only 5 o’clock. In other words, it was the perfect evening for Blond to nonchalantly pop up on Apple Music. Naturally, I abandoned my friends, dove into my car and headed anywhere that would take an hour of my time. Frank and I had some catching up to do.
Consider yourselves warned: this album will not feel as available to you if you were expecting a second Channel Orange, but you won’t be sorely disappointed either. Blond is sonically unique from all of Frank’s previous work. He is certainly experimenting with a different sound, but we find him grappling with the same concepts we’ve seen in the past: love, loneliness, acceptance, reaching nirvana, marijuana as a form of self-medication, etc. The instrumentals serve as an accessory, strategically placed for dramatic effect (the strings that swell up in “Seigfried”as Frank sings Elliott Smith’s “A Fond Farewell,” or the cathartic organs in “Godspeed”). However, the instrumentals are not just there for embellishment. Blond is guitar-driven and has an exceedingly lo-fi element to it. Standout R&B moments like “Pink + White,” “Solo” and “Nights,” show us that Channel Orange Frank is still there, there’s just more to him than that.
Frank has a special gift: the ability to make a person who doesn’t typically process lyrics hear them loud and clear. He seems more aware and in control of this gift than ever. Everything takes a back seat to his vocals, which carry the album. The second track, “Ivy” draws you in immediately – Frank is at his purest and most vulnerable as he sings, “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me.” Throughout “Ivy,” Frank repeats the phrase “deep down the feeling is still good,” as if he’s reassuring himself, regardless of how things ended. The pain in his voice escalates each time he insists, until the vocoder is used almost violently at the end. This seems to be his way of preparing us for an album layered from top to bottom with pain, intimacy and electricity.
“I broke your heart last week/You’ll probably feel better by the weekend/Still remember, had you going crazy/Screaming my name/The feeling deep down is good”
In “Self Control,” Frank is singing against a steady guitar rhythm, something we have not heard much of from him in the past. For the first half of the album you start to get the sense that the old Frank has returned; but Blond takes a sharp turn after “Nights,” the album’s gorgeous two-part centerpiece. We are faced with a dwelling moment of chaos in “Pretty Sweet.” Frank sounds like he’s coming undone, drowning almost. A series of strange moments follows and for a brief time we don’t hear Frank’s voice at all. He seems to actively distance himself from his usual finesse in this six-ish minutes of the album. What follows are the tracks that feature some of Blond’s most raw and melancholy moments (“White Ferrari,” “Seigfried,” “Godspeed”). The second half of Blond is as intriguing as it is unsettling, but may cause some listeners to briefly disengage.
It’s not you, it’s Frank. Don’t hesitate to hit shuffle when you reach the second half of the album; it may help you grow a stronger appreciation for each track if the sequencing disagrees with you. However, all eighteen songs serve as carefully thought out installations. This album is raw and takes time to set in, all it’s strongest moments sprinkled in secret, clever corners throughout the album. There’s something here for everyone, you just have to find your piece of Blond and hold onto it. True to his name, Frank Ocean is a deep and captivating force that cannot be controlled. He cannot be rushed, nor fully understood. It’s better to just ride the wave and see where it takes you with an artist like him. We missed you, Frank. Welcome back.