Frank Ocean has returned


Makaelah Walters


Frank Ocean’s highly anticipated return to the music scene ended on Aug. 19. After four years, what seemed like forever to fans, Ocean has released new music: an 18 track visual album and a separate 17 track album.

Both releases came as a surprise to Ocean’s fans, who have been eagerly awaiting this moment since the release of “Channel Orange,” Ocean’s first album, in 2012.

Ocean released “Endless” as a visual album, an audio-visual experience just under 46 minutes. Some tracks feature artists like James Blake, Jazmine Sullivan, members of Odd Future and Andre 3000.

“The whole affair can be dark, moody, drifty, ambient, textured, druggy, somnambulant, melancholic, Eno-ghostly, synthy and depressive,” Jason King of NPR said in his review of the album. “It can be melodically rich, even if its lethargic sameness can sometimes be snoozy.”

Filmed entirely in black and white in what seems to be a vast empty warehouse, “Endless” includes 18 tracks that serve as somewhat of a soundtrack. Through the entirety of the video Ocean is seen working with various power tools to build what many believe are several steps to what will ultimately become a “staircase to heaven.”

There is no particular narrative or context surrounding “Endless” to give the audience an idea of exactly why Ocean is constructing a staircase. Only Ocean can tell us for sure.

Each song bleeds into the next, almost seamlessly.

“With this Apple appliance you can capture live videos, still motion pictures shot at high frequency” a warped, almost robotic greeting from German artist Wolfgang Tillmans welcomes listeners to “Endless” in the intro track entitled “Device Control.”

Next comes “At Your Best (You Are Love),” Ocean’s rendition of the late Aaliyah’s cover of an Isley Brothers song from 1976. Avid fans may have recognized this track immediately, as audio of Ocean’s Aaliyah cover was originally released in 2015 on Ocean’s Tumblr page.

“But if you feel more like I feel, confusion can give way to doubt,” Ocean wails on this track in a way that makes listeners want to melt, then quickly solidify just in time for “Alabama,” the next track, and technically the first new Ocean song. “Alabama” is brief, though its overlapped lyrics tell a complex story.

In what are arguably some of the most impressive moments of “Endless,” Ocean delivers the tracks, “Mine” and “U-N-I-T-Y.” With lines like “Boy, you missed your moment, perusing the MoMA, I’m all on my lonely,” both tracks dance along the line between freestyle and spoken word.

The next track is a very brief instrumental entitled “Ambience 001: In a Certain Way.”

In “In Here Somewhere,” Ocean’s voice is warped, distant and almost indistinguishable. Sonically it lags a little before dipping into what feels like a space odyssey. It’s simultaneously futuristic and laid back.

It’s hard to see where the next track, “Slide on Me,” fits in with every song preceding it up until the very last moments. The guitar seems incompatible with Ocean’s rhymes, and ill-fitted with the more electronic tone of the album.

Luke Morgan Britton, a writer for British music journalism magazine NME, labeled this track the most conventional.

“It’s only at the end, as the synth pitch-shifts, that we hear something compelling going on,” Britton said.

At this point in the stream, Ocean begins to assemble the mysterious staircase, while “Sideways,” track 13, plays on. Another rap, “Sideways” closes with what sounds like an angelic choir crooning on almost eerily as Ocean continues to construct a spiral staircase.

“Rushes” and “Rushes To,” the most striking songs of the album, feature Leon Bridges-esque guitar behind Ocean’s vocals. The songs are stripped down and more personal than any of the tracks before them. “Rushes To” is the only track on which Ocean himself plays the guitar. Jayson Greene, of Pitchfork Magazine said “Rushes” has “a purposefully fragmented feeling.”

In the final track, which feels very much like the end of a journey, viewers watch as Ocean ascends his fully assembled staircase. The futuristic techno beats return before Wolfgang Tillmans returns to bid listeners farewell. It’s as fun listening to this song as it is watching Ocean climb his staircase to the heavens.

“Endless” is an experience from start to finish, leaving fans to wonder if such an enigmatic piece was only the precursor to the album they’d hoped for all along, and they were right.

On Saturday, just two days after the release of “Endless,” Ocean dropped another album entitled “Blonde,” in addition to announcing “Boys Don’t Cry,” a 360 page magazine he’s been working on since 2015.

“Boys Don’t Cry” was originally speculated to be the title of Ocean’s album.

It was available in pop-up shops across America. Ocean also shared a spread from the magazine on his Tumblr page that night, according to The magazine includes work from artist like Kanye West, Lil B and Tyler, The Creator.

As of now, “Blonde” is available on Apple Music only. A different album in itself, “Blonde” features 17 new songs. After it’s release, Ocean took to Tumblr.

“I had the time of my life making all of this,” Ocean said in the post. “Thank you all. Especially those of you who never let me forget I had to finish. Which is basically every one of ya’ll. Haha. Love you.”

Story by: Makaelah Walters, A&E Reporter