"Blonde" a perfect symbol of summer living, long delayed

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016 at 8:41 PM
Blonde a perfect symbol of summer living, long delayed by Britton Rozzelle

 It seems like just yesterday when I was reviewing the mysterious new release from Kanye West, “The Life of Pablo,” an album that released at the peak of a month-long whirlwind of zany tweets and song leaks. The circumstances behind Frank Ocean’s new projects, “Endless” and “Blonde,” seem to make West’s hype-fest seem tame in comparison.

For those who weren’t swept away in the torrent of information earlier this season, after around four years of misinformation, silence and conjecture, Frank Ocean started streaming through Apple Music at three a.m. This several week-long stream culminated in a new visual album from Ocean called “Endless,” a frenetic and highly conceptual piece that seemed like a solid follow-up to Ocean’s previous album, “channel ORANGE.” Three days later, “Blonde” was released on Apple Music and iTunes – an entirely different album – joined by a series of pop-up shops in several large cities.

“Blonde,” now, technically, the third album from prodigal son of R&B finally exists.

It was worth the wait.

The album starts with “Nikes,” an other-worldly track that sets the tone of the record ­­– a tone of distance, melancholy and intense introverted thought. Throughout this song, and those that follow, we seem to see a completely three-dimensional, detailed account of what the real Ocean is like behind the lyrics and laissez faire approach to social media, recounting events of failed parties, failed relationships and fears.

“Ivy” continues the tone, almost wholly unique to this album when compared to previous works, and tells the story of a past romance, now elusive, through a hazy guitar and discordant vocals that echo through the strings, ramping up into a controlled-chaos in its conclusion – something that stayed on my mind for hours after listening. Once the chaos subsides, we are greeted by the warm embrace of “Pink + White,” a Pharrell Williams and Tyler, The Creator-produced track that paints a beautiful picture of a summer scene with Ocean’s signature lyrics and a breezy soundscape.

The following skit, “Be Yourself,” recounts a phone call reminding the listener to do as its simple title suggests, and avoid the use of drugs contrary to the theme that has always persisted through Ocean’s works. Perfectly, it flows into “Solo,” a dreamy, organ-based standout that highlights perfectly feelings of loneliness, dependence and faith.

“Skyline To” feels like another perfect summer song to highlight a night drive, creating a world “under moonlight,” as Ocean suggests, where the days of the summer begin to blur together under the Californian sky, supported by the natural sounds of the outdoors, alien synth and angelic vocals. “Self Control,” returns to the narrative seemingly started by “Ivy,” alongside a bevy of pitched vocals that seem hit-or-miss compared to the serene guitar work in the song while “Good Guy” is reminiscent of the memos found on the new “NAO” album, seemingly unrelated to anything else on the album. 

“Nights,” like “Solo,” is an instant standout track with a playful-yet-grounded beat and supporting guitar that almost completely switches from an up-beat tale of life to the aftermath—a soulful recounting of the past. “Solo (Reprise)” highlights Andre 3000’s return to the scene with a powerful series of verses describing his distaste with the modern music scene that leads into the raucous opening of “Pretty Sweet,” that almost plays like a Tame Impala album cut with fast-paced, looping instrumentals mixed with a Boards of Canada-esque children’s chorus.

“Facebook Story” is another skit, much like “Be Yourself,” that encapsulates, or perhaps describes, Ocean’s outlook on social media and, by extension, society that leads into “Close to You,” a modern, Daft Punk inspired reworking of Carpenter’s song of the same name. “White Ferrari” continues this trend, reworking bits of “Here There Everywhere” and mixing them with soulful vocals and lovelorn lyrics.

My personal favorite track on the album, “Siegfried,” plays with ideas of being brave and finding a place in the world set in a Radiohead-inspired soundscape, mixing in Jonny Greenwood’s strings with Beatle’s lyrics and a personal narrative culminating in an incredibly strong five minutes, while “Godspeed,” rounds the album off with a hopeful note. This gospel-inspired track feels like a perfect addition to the album, and the backing vocals by Kim Burrell complete it.

The last track, “Futura Free,” encapsulates all of the themes present on the album, from growing up to finding oneself and remains a cautiously optimistic track to round out the emotional journey of “Blonde.”

Overall, much like most things, “Blonde” has flaws, and it may not be the album many fans were expecting. That being said, it is a beautifully composed and produced album from start to finish, highlighting some of the darker parts of the human condition while remaining a perfect symbol of summer living, and with that in mind I wholeheartedly recommend it. 

Standouts: "Pink+White," "Nights," "Siegfried"

Britton Rozzelle is the executive editor for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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