"There's a bull and a matador dueling in the sky. Inhale, in hell, there's heaven.”
In the five years after the release of his iconic debut album Channel Orange in 2011, Frank Ocean aimed to live a life of mystery — and succeeded fairly well at it. After deleting his Twitter and Instagram accounts in 2013 and leaving only his sparsely-updated Tumblr, the reclusive singer very intently removed himself from the public eye. Just as soon as he had arrived, he was gone.
Still, Frank’s presence was felt.
In the span of two years, Frank Ocean teased the release date of his sophomore release (under the presumed title Boys Don’t Cry) time and time again — and just as fans would get their hopes up in anticipation, the rug was again pulled from under them. Frank Ocean was Lucy, his fans were Charlie Brown, and his follow-up to Channel Orange was the football. And we fell for it every time.
Then — finally — the world was introduced to Blond.
Blond is as much a sonic journal of Frank’s personal life as it is an album about all of our lives. Contained within the album’s 17 tracks are relatable songs about heartbreak, self-medication, passion, and indifference — but the consistent theme is its emotional wariness. Ocean constantly juxtaposes contrasting ideas throughout the album — “Maybe I'm a fool / To settle for a place with some nice views / Maybe I should move / Settle down, two kids and a swimming pool,” he poses on the album’s emotional cortex, “Seigfried” — all before shouting in desperation, “I’m not brave!”
"I'd do anything for you," he sings through a hushed tone to close the song, but even this comes with a caveat: "In the dark."
It is Ocean’s ability to express the dichotomy of his innermost monologue that elevates Blond to more than just another melodramatic album. These are not simple songs about heartbreak or longing; these are songs with immense emotional depth penned by a complicated artist.
The music on the album is notably more subdued and restrained than on any of Ocean’s other projects; where Channel Orange and Nostalgia, Ultra. welcomed you with open arms, Blond keeps you at arm’s length. In place of the lush, eclectic soundscapes created on his first two releases are sparse guitar riffs and minimalistic keyboards, allowing the warmth of Frank’s voice to take center stage.
If Channel Orange is Frank’s magnum opus, Blond is a direct and purposeful contrast in style and content – but it is no less impressive or important.
The album pushes the boundaries of what “alt-R&B” means in today’s musical landscape. From the swirling, chorus-filled guitar tones of “Ivy” to the simple sweetness of “Self Control” and the controlled exhale of “White Ferrari,” Ocean creates an intimacy unmatched by many of his peers. He knows it, too; emotion drips from every word and flows into every distorted riff seamlessly.
Notably, Blond is also almost entirely featureless, with the only exception being the incredible, dizzying verse from Andre 3000 on “Solo (Reprise).” Andre’s flurry of words are full of disillusionment and frustration, but fit perfectly within the album’s nostalgic undertones. “After 20 years in, I’m so naïve / I was under the impression that everyone wrote they own verses / It’s coming back different, and yeah, that shit hurts me,” he raps before finishing with a direct jab at modern artists. “I’m hummin’ and whistlin’ to those not deserving / I’ve stumbled and lived every word / Was I just working way too hard?”
The album ends the same way it began — smoky personal reflection expressed through distorted vocalization. “Play these songs, it's therapy momma,” he mumbles through an altered, warbled tone. “They paying me, momma / I should be paying them / I should be paying y'all, honest to God.”
It’s a nice sentiment, Frank, but really – these songs are therapy for us, too.
by Trevor Paxton
Song You Need To Hear: "Self Control"
Boys Don't Cry