Album of the Day: Frank Ocean - ‘Endless’
Frank Ocean is an enigma. An artist who refuses to explain himself or his art. He speaks through his art. After a little more than 4 years, and one and a half years after the initial announcement of his third official album “Boys Don’t Cry” (or whatever it will be called), Frank launched a mysterious livestream inside a warehouse where he built a staircase to climb and reach the top by the end of the livestream. He did it for 4 days (starting August 1st), and then disappeared for 2 weeks, with no explanation, and no album, even after the New York Times reported the album and the magazine would be out on August 5th. Two weeks passed until Thursday night when Frank came back to the livestream and it came to a conclusion and his new 45-minute visual album “Endless” was released as an Apple Music exclusive.
A very important and key element of this whole livestream/film was that every day, during the time Frank was working, we would hear snippets of what appeared to be new music from a boombox inside the warehouse, in a very minimal manner. We would hear a beautiful acoustic guitar melody looped for few minutes, then it would cut to a synth melody looped for another few minutes, so on and so forth. But every day, these sounds became more developed as more elements were added to them, and on the final day, we heard the full songs while Frank was finishing the staircase. What I got from this was Frank showing his creative process in the form of a metaphor (making the staircase) and when you hear the album, there’s this strange sense of familiarity and satisfaction at the same time. That the snippets that we heard for 5 days have actually lead to the full songs (and interludes).
“Endless”, however is not “the” album. It’s the prelude to the album that is supposed to follow up “Channel Orange”. But if “Endless” is anything to go by, the forthcoming album is going to be an astonishment to behold, because “Endless” itself is an all-around great album. It’s bold, gorgeous, unsettling and confident. With this album, Frank has taken a whole new path with his music and lyrics. A lot of these songs (18 tracks in total) have no form or structure. At times they sound as if they were created in one day as Frank was experimenting with different sounds and vibes with his producers without any sort of pre-planning or pre-written material. As a result, the lyrics of this album are like a stream of consciousness, and they are emotionally unsettling and dark for the most part. An instant highlight of the album “U-N-I-T-Y” is the first track where Frank legitimately raps in a very rant-like, confident manner and his compelling flow never lets go of your attention. You keep trying to understand what he is saying, and his lyrics are strangely out of character.
“Is you Roger or Novak? You still are no match, you get no rematch. Boy, you missed your moment.” That’s not a very Frank Ocean-esque line, is it? Yet it’s pleasantly surprising that Frank delivers interesting lines like this over a very beautiful, laid-back instrumental consisted of a guitar and programmed beats (which sound insanely fresh, by the way.) Another very out of character lyric that is strangely fitting is in the song “Sideways” where Frank raps “Sucked a dick long, had a swan neck, put some real swans in the pond then.” The very seamless transition from melodic rapping to singing that Frank does throughout the album is absolutely incredible. His rapping does not feel forced at all and shows a different side of his musicality.
The best track of the album, and quite easily one of Frank’s absolute best songs musically and lyrically is the very somber, heartbreaking “Rushes To” which is about Frank describing the time he spent/is spending with his lover. It’s one his ‘narrative’ songs, the more you listen the more you take out of it. It’s also one of the very few non-rap/beat-oriented songs of the album all the way through. It’s only consisted of an acoustic guitar, a bluesy electric guitar and a distant synth line that fades out quickly. “Saturdays involved making our entrances into life outside” Frank sings in a very quiet, vulnerable way.
Then the story of the song gets a very dark turn lyrically as Frank describes the time when he made a sextape with his lover and rewatched it to recapture the moment they had, but the “only difference is it’s flat.” A simple yet absolutely crushing line that suggests that intimate moment may never be recreated through rewatching a sextape. Then few moments later comes the most stunning vocal range and high notes that Frank has ever delivered. It’s so incredible. I cannot praise it enough but it’s something that needs to be experienced rather than read about.
“Endless” is a challenging album because of its unconventional structure and lyrics. None of the songs have a hook or chorus. They’re not radio-friendly. The songs are very personal (Frank makes them sound personal even if they are fiction). The sound of the album is very different than “Channel Orange”. It’s more electronic and beats-oriented and despite the complexion of most of the beats (particular “Higgs”) there’s always a sense of “space” in every song, which adds to the lasting impact of the album long after it’s finished. Malay, one of Frank’s frequent producers mentioned that the majority of the album was made with a handheld mic in the control room. So you get a sense that a lot of these lyrics were most likely sung in the moment, and you might also notice some human error in the album as well, which makes the album more human and intimate. Even if Frank doesn’t releases the “official” follow-up to “Channel Orange” anytime soon, “Endless” once again proves Frank’s magnificent artistry on all fronts.