Courtesy of The New York Times

September 10, 2016

Let’s Be Frank: Arts & Entertainment Writers Take On Frank Ocean’s New Projects

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Four years after his revered and still-bumped Channel ORANGE, R&B singer/enigma Frank Ocean has finally put out two follow-up projects: Endless and Blonde. Frank Ocean fans from the Arts & Entertainment section reflected on the albums: Were they worth the wait? Will they ascend to the same level of praise of Channel ORANGE?

Chris Stanton: I had a friend make the mistake recently of criticizing Blond(e) to me, arguing that the hype around the album combined with Frank’s general aura of mystery had led to reactionary praise — longtime fans and casual passerby alike loudly proclaiming their hosannas to prove that they totally get art, man. Call it a product of spontaneous album releases or the performativity of social media, but the immediate public response to this sprawling project (TWO albums??? A 45-minute video of our hero building a staircase that leads to the ceiling???) was decidedly one-note. The joke, of course, is that Blond(e) doesn’t present anything resembling the instant gratification that our culture seems to demand.

People forget that Channel ORANGE was an album that took time to sink in, gaining importance in the rearview as we clung to it with increasing anxiety, uncertain if a follow-up would ever materialize. “Thinkin Bout You” may have made instant waves for the pop genius that it is, but years of listening reveal the small moments — the background vocals on “Pilot Jones” or the raw simplicity of “End” — as what truly stick. Picking up where that album left off, Blond(e) seems comprised of moments more than songs.

Frank is a man obsessed with nostalgia’s ability to distort, and the album itself mimics the selective nature of memory. Songs pass in moods and colors, while different cars bookend chapters to his life (“We drove the X6 back then”). Snippets of misremembered childhood conversations drift in and out of the foreground, fleeting moments only partially preserved on record. It’s a fractured approach to album making, but one that reflects our relationship with an artist who so delicately drifts in and out of our lives, projecting a public persona that’s just vaguely enough defined for us to remember him as we’d like. “I came to visit,” he sings on “Self Control”, “Cause you see me like a UFO/That’s like never.” Enjoy him while he’s here, but know that afterward, the feelings are still good.

Chris Stanton is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at cms459@cornell.edu.

Rebekah Jones: Frank can tell a hell of a story, and that’s exactly what this album is, a story. Blonde is a song-writing masterpiece, and that kind of artistry is often under-appreciated. Like any poet who can express the complexities of love, awkwardness or loneliness, Ocean manages to illustrate the intricacies of his own life. My favorite track on the album is “Solo,” and trust me it was a close call. But on this track specifically, he rawly hits so many relatable topics related to the feeling of loneliness. I can relate to him as a person, even though we come from two entirely different worlds.

That’s artistry. I can feel his pain, and I can understand why he thinks the way he does, and that relation resonates through the entire album. The first line holds nothing back. “Hand me a towel, I’m dirty dancing by myself/Gone off tabs of that acid” The man is talking about masturbation (hence the title). Each verse delivers another scenario. He constantly switches the role between his life in solace, and the life he is not particularly ready for, what he considers the fast life: “Right now I prefer yellow/Red-bone, so mellow.” This could be due to the fact that he is intensely self-aware. He looks and sees conflict in the world around him. He compares the conflict in the world with the stars in the sky: “There’s a bull and a Matador dueling in the sky.” However, in every chorus, he escapes into what he describes as something of a nirvana: Getting high. He sings, “It’s hell on earth and the city’s on fire, inhale, in hell, there’s heaven.” An explanation would be inappropriate because he so effortlessly conveys his perception of the world (and it’s easy to see what he does), and his getaway. As we all know, life is not this one-dimensional puzzle, and Frank understands that. He beautifully blends the intricacies of every thing he feels in every song, and as a result every track is jammed packed with situations and feelings that our generation can relate to. Whether or not you agree with his method of escape from the world’s difficulties is irrelevant, this is Frank’s story, and we’re just honored that he decided to share it with us.

Rebekah Jones is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at rj252@cornell.edu.

Jack Jones: As moving and multi-colored as Blonde (Blond?) turned out to be, the only new Frank Ocean song that really got under my skin the way channel ORANGE did was “Rushes.” “Rushes” is on Endless, the contract-ending “visual album” and collection of sketch-songs that Frank released just before Blonde. Frank’s singing hovers on the edge of unintelligibility throughout, with only quiet guitar chords accompanying the gorgeous, overlapping melodies. Lines occasionally cut through the haze: “Gonna be somebody,” “Tell me what you need from me? Gas money?” “I love the way you make me feel.” The layers of his vocals build, leading to a passionate crescendo that is inversely introverted: “Wake me up in a week.” Then the song diminishes and dissolves, and drifts into an irresistible groove drum-machine and guitar groove. Enigmatic, unpredictable, and piercingly beautiful, “Rushes” contains in one song everything that makes Frank Ocean special.

Jack Jones is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jackjones@cornellsun.com.

Nick Swan: Before discussing Blonde, it would be apt to mention a few points about Channel ORANGE and why it was an exceptional glimpse of Ocean’s artistic originality. A large portion of ORANGE’s allure lies in its unwillingness to indulge the melodic demands of most popular music; it consistently maintains a gritty and dissonant flow, like a fine grunge album. Periodically, Ocean decides to lead the vision into an epic number, like “Super Rich Kids” or “Pyramids.” On these tracks, layers upon layers of sound synthesize to produce captivating tones and colors. On his very first studio album, Ocean exhibited a mastery of nuance that most artists only yearn to gain.

In a similar fashion, Ocean refuses to yield Blonde‘s artistic concept to the mores of traditional pop. This often involves both musical and lyrical deception. On “Nikes,” Ocean enters with a compressed, pitched-up voice, only revealing his natural tone minutes after the track begins. “Pink + White” blurs conventional tonality, at times hinting at both major and minor in the same beat. Many songs, such as “Solo,” feature Ocean’s abstract, poetic verses in a tight juxtaposition with his more stated lyrics. What does it all imply? Perhaps it is that Ocean’s themes – whether distorted self-identity, unrequited love, drug use – are not always coherent as he feels and imagines them. As Wesley Morris of The New York Times writes, “He [Ocean] built songs around those feelings.” Straying from a notion of beautiful tragedy, Frank Ocean breaks the rules of popular music.

Note: Part of Nick Swan’s comment appeared in his review of Ocean’s Blonde, published on August 28, 2016.

Nick Swan is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at nswan@cornellsun.com.

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