SoundCheck: Frank Ocean's "Blond"

The big question surrounding the new Frank Ocean album was: "When?"

When would this album be released?

And eventually, with a hint of exclusivity, it "premiered" on Apple Music. If you didn't belong to that country club, you'd have to wait with the rest of the masses for it to be on Spotify. Not to peg Ocean, as Drake and other artists have also released their albums first on Apple Music, or in the case of Kanye West, TIDAL.

The supposed democratization of music brought upon by streaming services has also lead to shortages and surpluses in the market. We can't stream De La Soul is Dead and The Chronic is not available on Spotify.

Blond opens with the muffled tip-toe bass lines of "Nikes," which could be the alt response to "Jumpman."
At first I thought I had accessed some altered version of the album as Ocean's vocals are given the chipmunk effect, until three minutes into the song where Ocean breaks into his usual vulnerable hum. Was he teasing us again?

When does the album start, like, for real?

It reminded me of the other day when I was listening to the morning chatterboxes on Bloomberg Radio talk about when the FED would make their next move to raise interest rates, and I had to reload the audio because it actually was coming in distorted. A slight tick in levels can trigger such mammoth results, from sonic to economics. According to a voicemail from Ocean's mother on the interlude "Be Yourself," it seems one single puff from a joint could lead to tragedy.

Blond operates in the details, the slightest references or nuances. The pickled organ on "Solo," which is probably the album's prime moment, even has its own reprise featuring Andre 3000 ripping a vivid piano tickled monologue. And then there's that album cover, a sort of rough trade homoerotic "Ryan Lochte Rio-blonde" locker room replica.

"White Ferrari" takes you on a winding night drive, steely synths give way to Ocean's moonlit strumming, as he spins his wheels over a love driven away. There is so much soul to bare in Frank Ocean's art. A lot of longing. You can feel those tales sunken deep in treads of the rubber soles of sneakers or tires of exotic sports cars he howls over. There is almost a fabled pattern to the titles of the songs in their chronological order:

Nikes, Ivy, Pink + White.
Be Yourself, Solo
Skyline to, Self control.
Good guy, nights
solo, facebook story
Close to you, white ferrari
Seigfreid, godspeed
futura free

Ocean's previous album, 2012's channel ORANGE, was a promising teaser of where his talents could lead, with the intoxicating "Thinkin Bout You" or the jingling "Forrest Gump" making the case for pop prominence. In the years since, The Weeknd has perhaps taken the crown as the unorthodox stadium sized superstar. But with Blond, Ocean emerges as a sharpened auteur with a theatrical work rich in characters, images and scenes so raw and beautifully composed. Blond seeps into the ears, painting the brain with a filmy technicolor grain you can't tape over -- nor would one wish to forget.





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