“How far is a light year?” Neo-RnB artist Frank Ocean asks at the end of his sophomore studio album, Blonde. The last 4 years have been rough for fans of the California native, with no releases since his 2012 debut studio album Channel Orange. After the critical and commercial success of his debut album Channel Orange, Blonde has big shoes to fill. Does it live up to the hype?
The short answer is, quite frankly, yes. Blonde sits at an intimidating 17 tracks and a 60 minute runtime, and is a delightful mixture of 90’s hip hop beats, intricate production, genius songwriting, and cleverly orchestrated interludes. The theme of this album seems to be maturation; it plays like a diary reads, and this especially comes to light in the closer of Blonde, “Futura Free.” During this 9 minute closer, Ocean streams his consciousness about his quick rise to fame, his music, mortality, and background. The second half of the song begins after a silent intermission, turning abruptly into an interview primarily drowned out by white noise. The song pulls together the themes from the rest of his album; music, sex and love.
One thing noticeably absent from Blonde are pop songs. Most of the album’s tracks do not revolve around a chorus or hook, instead around instrumentals and composition. Not to say that the album has no catchy songs, with songs like “Ivy” and “Nikes” breaking free of the pop formula while still imprinting their message and melody into your brain by using clever instrumentation and songwriting. However, songs like “Solo” and “Pink + White” prove Ocean can still write a killer hook. Ocean seems to take a more experimental approach to songs in the second half of the album with songs like the aforementioned Stream of Consciousness in “Futura Free” and the sound wall presented in the unsettling “Pretty Sweet”.
The album succeeds because of its experimental nature and subtlety. The album relies on instrumentals to make songs memorable, but the instruments do not overwhelm. In fact, the secret behind Blonde’s beauty is it’s simplicity. Tracks like “Nikes” and “Solo” are backed by slow rotation organ and “Ivy” and “Nights” backed by the a mix of strings, soft electric guitar and high fret plucked bass. The composition is complicated enough to make it interesting without making it hard on the ears, and the lyrical content is good enough to make it worth listening to most songs multiple times; Once, to listen to Ocean’s brilliant songwriting and again to pick up on every production and compositional decision.
Frank Ocean’s Blonde is a very well put together look into the artist’s life, thoughts, and emotions, but what really makes it stand out is the craft. The instrumentation is top notch and an extreme amount of care was put into the album. Every beat, instrument and song is where it’s supposed to be. “How far is a light year?” is an appropriate end to a fantastic album. The question is rhetorical, because Frank Ocean has travelled it. The growth and evolution, both as a person and artist, between albums is apparent. Both lyrically and musically, Blonde touches places Channel Orange would never go.Ocean proves himself once again as a mastermind of modern pop while satisfying a more experimental, mature and artistic perspective of his music.
By Jackson Radley