With a drought in California, four years since Frank Ocean’s last album Channel Orange and a heartbreaking last minute cancellation of a headlining set at FYF in 2015 (#neverforget), it has been hard to hold onto the idea that rain or Frank Ocean would be a sight I would ever see again. Yet, in the true, surreal nature of 2016, rain is falling outside my window in Los Angeles as I write about his latest release Blonde being one of the best albums of the year.
After flurries of hype that surrounded his return to music and a multitude of false release dates, Ocean’s long awaited ode to the digital aesthetic of the millennial age, Blonde, finally dropped in August. Four years of seemingly hopeless waiting amounted to the release of two albums in two days. Which I find as more than enough justification for watching literal paint dry on a livestream in anticipation for the R&B messiah’s return. Endless, the video album, was the first component to drop. I quickly tuned out the world, sent a text to my cousin to enlist me under her family plan to apple music, and tuned into about an hours worth of spectral imagery set to a soundtrack of hauntingly beautiful instrumentals and demos from the singer. This was followed up by the main component, the 17-track music album Blonde. In its entirety, the project is an intimately curated project made up of a music album, visual album, limited edition magazine, fashion photography, poetry and personal essays. His unconventional and avant-guard project, and their equally unruly releases, was a statement of artistic autonomy in itself by redefining the year’s trend of secret albums on his own terms.
Overwhelmingly intimate, Ocean uses its collection of songs composed by minimal instruments, lo-fi arrangements and modified whimsical voice effects to narrate a vulnerable journey through his inner workings as he processes the realities of the outside world. Blonde is as a creation that uses its linguistic, sonic and visual imagery to guide you into learning how to listen to it, not the other way around. Stripped down melodies and lyricism that is increasingly more emotionally raw, deviate from previous work all while proving that simplification does not equate to loss of emotional depth. In its purest essence, it is an emotionally kinetic album that allows the listeners the accessibility to transcend into a retrospective journey of their own personal human memory, while following Ocean on his.
The albums intended message remains as cryptic and mysterious as its creator. And while there have been many interpretations of what the album intended to evoke, I found Blonde’s overall salvation to be a distant, yet familiar trip on the road to emotional recovery. A release encased by the heightened political, cultural and social climate of 2016, the thunderous call for revolutionary efforts was answered by Frank Ocean and his project. Much more than a moment in music, Blonde can be seen as a movement that provided a norm deviating, yet radical form of action when the world needed it the most, one of self-love.
However, it is no place to find a romanticized, cliché Hollywood type of love. It is also not a how-to in achieving satisfaction or obtaining love. It is an album that attentively delves deep into the concealed trauma that exists within the personal body. Through poetic tales of youth, sexuality, race relations, drugs and romance Ocean candidly shares his lived past as a means to revisit with prismatic eyes in attempts to extract love in places previously unseen. Unrequited love. Hopeless love. Lost love. Wrong love. High love. Desired Love. Naïve love. Blonde attempts to show how all multifaceted avenues of despondent love has equally helped us arrive at the current state of ourselves as much as the happier forms we beg the forefront of our conscious to hold onto, yet are too often suppressed. Consistent with the album and authors’ complex characteristics, it becomes a love album when you need it and a love album when you don’t. Tracks like “Ivy” and “Nike” reignite blissful moments of good in loves gone bad. “Seigfried” revels in the solace that can be found in sorrow while “White Ferrari” embraces the growth that isolation can bring. And with a year that, personally, began and ended with the unexpected fatalities of friends, a propitious romance that ended too soon, conflict of unrequited desire and the constant dimming light within the world and consequently myself, the album which was boldly created to help Ocean get closer to delivering his own emotional salvation, provided me with a refuge that track by track helps me take a step closer to my own.
From anticipation to release to now months after, Blonde continues to cement its place within the hearts, subconscious and music libraries of millennial fans. It’s sorrow found in our past. It’s reflection found in the present. It’s the hope for healing in the future. Blonde’s amorphous yet honest nature grants it the ability to take on new life and meaning with every listen. In turn, perhaps its crowning achievement is that it allows our perception of ourselves to take on new life and meaning with every listen too.