It’s no understatement to call Blond/em> the most anticipated album of the year. In fact, Frank Ocean’s follow-up to Channel Orange has redefined what anticipation means in the digital age. His coy promises and hints at a release date, combined with art installation-style videos of him chopping wood, plus the release of the video album Endless (which wasn’t actually all that great) Ocean set off a legion of cyber sleuths searching for clues as to the artist’s true intentions and a firm release date. There was even an app that would alert you via text with updated information about the release of this one album.
In a final twist, Ocean released the new LP exclusively on Apple Music, which seems a little more U2 than Thelonious Monk, but whatever. It finally arrived.
Having scored such a plum exclusive, Apple Music doesn’t shy away from hyping Blond, calling it “An album we’ll be listening and talking about for years.” But let’s be real, it’s a very good album, but it’s not Innervisions.
The style of the album is far more esoteric than Channel Orange, with few songs even including drums. Instead, dreamy synths and vocal experimentation are the tools Ocean uses to create his new soundscape. Throughout the record Ocean shows himself to be a vocal chameleon. On the opening track, “Nikes,” he sings in a pitch-shifted voice that recalls a deeper, depressed version of the Chipmunks. That schtick could get old fast, but Ocean wastes no time belaboring his experiments. Blond continually showcases a voice that can be achingly sincere, Vocoder-layered or at times overdriven to sound like a human synthesizer. Even if you never hear these songs on the radio (their length and lack of easy hooks would make it an awkward fit) I’m sure producers are cribbing ideas from Blond as we speak.
Lyrically and musically, Ocean explores far wider territory than on his previous albums, yet he somehow maintains his signature brand of somber nostalgia. “Pink + White” is the closest thing to a conventional R&B song, but even it meanders off into the clouds by the end.
His lyrics seldom make linear sense, but with his words he’s able to create a soulful collage of images and emotions swirling around lost love, lost innocence and lost intimacy. On this album Ocean shows himself to be an impressionistic storyteller. You can’t quite put your finger on the stories beneath his lyrics, so they’re allowed to continuously writhe and shift in your mind.
You probably won’t find yourself humming these tunes in the shower, but on Blond, Frank Ocean has achieved something significant. He has managed to create real, personal intimacy through experimental production. It’s ironic, ultimately, that despite all of the internet hype surrounding its release, Blond has managed to be one of the most immediate and personal albums put out in a long time.