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Frank Ocean rises from the dead with “Blonde”

contributed%0AAfter+a+four+year+wait%2C+Frank+Ocean+is+back+on+the+scene+after+releasing+Blonde+last+week.+Photo+Contributed.+
contributed After a four year wait, Frank Ocean is back on the scene after releasing “Blonde” last week. Photo Contributed.
contributed After a four year wait, Frank Ocean is back on the scene after releasing "Blonde" last week. Photo Contributed.
After a four year wait, Frank Ocean is back on the scene after releasing “Blonde” last week. Photo Contributed.

Steven Duong, duongste@grinnell.edu

A few days ago, I received a text from an old high school friend informing me that Frank Ocean had dropped his first album in four years. His follow up text read: “f**k apple music here’s a dropbox link lmao.” I immediately drove home and spent the next hour locked in my bedroom in a scene reminiscent of my early high school days. I crawled under the covers, flipped the lights off and plugged in my worn-out Apple earbuds, this time putting on something called “Blonde” instead of my old faithful “Channel Orange.” As soon as I had listened through the entire thing once, I sat still in bed for a good fifteen minutes before feverishly texting my friends to share each and every thought and feeling that had found its way into my head in the last hour. Some of these texts were deeply emotional and intimately revealing about my life. Others read something like: “YO THAT BEAT SWITCH ON NIGHTS IS LIT THO.”

Was the wait worth it? That’s the question I got most from friends who hadn’t yet listened to the album. Was the wait worth it? Four years. Four, long, long years of Franklessness, replete with mysterious website changes, false release dates, the occasional feature (PABLO!) and the casual yet complete destruction of fans’ hopes and dreams. With that said, was the wait worth it? Another one of my texts: “FRANK I FORGIVE U FOR EVERYTHING LET’S GET BACK TOGETHER PLEASE.”

It’s hard to describe the impact “Blonde” had without explaining what “Channel Orange” means to me. It’s a record that has been with me for four years, a soundtrack that permeates every old friendship, every strange transitional period, every budding relationship I’ve been a part of since it came out. Every time I hear “Channel Orange” again, I feel as if I’m thumbing my way through a very familiar book; a collection of snippets and vignettes of people I know both nothing and everything about. It’s a surreal experience, absorbing the stories of what amounts to the L.A. bourgeoisie over and over again, hearing Frank masterfully channel the sometimes overwhelming, sometimes blunted emotions behind their beautifully broken lives and loves.

If “Channel Orange” is a book of short stories, “Blonde” is a memoir. Instead of telling us a story about super rich kids, Frank is one on “Nikes,” slicing his way through the dreamy beat with his piercing, pitched-up vocals, delivering lines about fake friendships and relationships tainted by the pitfalls of success. “Blonde” dives headfirst into the glitter-filled, digitally magnified decadence of contemporary youth, but this time, Frank’s life and identity take center stage. About every word he croons, raps, speaks, sings and exudes Frank Ocean. In the four years I’d spent listening to one of his albums on repeat (as well as one mixtape), Frank had traveled the world, written at least two full album releases’ worth of songs, recorded music in a dozen different cities and grown further into his identity and his music, which was already uniquely moving by the time he was 23. On “Blonde,” he sings frankly and self-assuredly about his sexuality, his fame and success and his drug use, even directing these lyrics to his mother on “Futura Free.” “Blonde” reflects the confidence of an artist who knows himself better now than he ever has before.

On the album, Frank flexes his ability to be absolutely devastating yet absolutely necessary on any and every song, from “Ivy,” a shimmery, smooth track where he laments on nostalgia and past love, to “Solo,” a simple, keys-backed instrumental strewn with bravado-laden lyrics about marijuana, acid, sex and being alone. The production on the album lacks percussion in a lot of places, making many of the songs feel dreamy and kind of empty until Frank’s voice suddenly flashes into being like a spotlight and holds you close while you begin to fall apart. That voice has never failed to unearth old scars in me, to strike veins deeper and richer than anything else in me, and this is no exception on his newest project. Frank has always been an emotional powerhouse and a vivid storyteller, but that’s not what matters most on “Blonde.” The moments that really shine through are the deeply confessional ones, the lines that dig as deep into Frank himself as they do into you.

I’ll leave you with one more text I sent in the wake of Blonde: “DAMN 3STACKS W THE FEATURE BUT WHERE’S KANYE THO??”

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