Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Live Review - Frank Ocean - Blonde

"Cause I been thinking bout forever"

^^^me on the release date of Boys Don't Cry

But nah it's actually here, it's called Blonde now but it's here: after four years of teasing and sporadic guest verses and complete media blackouts, we have a successor to channel ORANGE. Really though, what's even crazier than the existence of this album is story behind it. In 2010, when we were blasting Earl and Bastard and Rolling Papers, and celebrating the "reincarnation of 98 Eminem", could any of us have guessed that the unassuming but obviously talented singer on a few tracks was about to drop the sublime nostalgia, ULTRA? And then would anyone have guessed that it was just a warm-up to channel ORANGE, one of the most acclaimed albums of the decade? Like no matter how much you loved Frank up until that point, did anyone actually expect it to be that good?

I haven't talked about my love for it on this blog, but is it really necessary? Is there anyone who doesn't love that album? In fact, it's been repeated listens to it that's delayed this review more than anything. Whenever I feel ready to tackle it, I figure I'll just listen to "Thinkin Bout You" again, just to warm myself up, and suddenly it's 50 minutes later. His music has this hypnotic nebulous weight to it, it just seems to draw you up and up... Looking at his favorite songs and movies, you know he's patrician af, and you can feel this complexity and aesthetic reverence lurking behind everything. But there's no pretense, no challenges, just musical gifts - he's as likely to reference Akira Toriyama as Akira Kurosawa, and even his most thematically complex songs still hit hard on the most resonating emotional level. The 10-minute jawdropper "Pyramids" is (I'm pretty sure) some sort of Joycean mythic synthesis of the ancient queen Cleopatra and a modern-day sex worker, but you don't need to know that to really feel it, and to really feel like listening to it twelve times in a row.

But if no one was ready for channel ORANGE to be a masterpiece, everyone is prepared now. Somehow, in a year with new Kanye, new Radiohead, and new Avalanches, Blond managed to be the most hotly anticipated album in many online circles. The talent he's drawn in on this thing is ridiculous, like, look at this list, any combination of three makes no sense. Andre 3000 is some sort of hip hop folk hero that modern historians have ruled unfeasible to have actually existed. Arca's latest album looks like this and somehow sounds like it. Beyonce is Beyonce and she doesn't have time for less than 10/10 albums. David Bowie is dead and somehow helped this spirit bomb. Gang of Four were Chinese Communist Party officials that were later charged with treason. Um. Johnny Greenwood plays guitar in the aforementioned Radioheads. KOHH is a Japanese rapper who's big hit iPhone 5 must be heard. Kim Burrell is this generation's Ella Fitzgerald, as if we deserved such a thing. Rick Rubin is a homeless man who appeared in Kim's video exposing Taylor Swift. Yung Lean is a Swedish child who likes Arizona Iced Tea. Etc.

I think we just gotta go into it. There's an important point where you can't really put the appeal words, and that's part of the appeal too. Hey wait idgi is this album called Blonde or blond? Uhh whatever.

Frank Ocean - blond
Live Review

1. Nikes
Right away we get this wave of slow rolling just unnngh, it's like molten candy or something. Woah this vocal effect lol what, helium robo-alien? Okay I can fux with it, I'm already feeling it like it was some dear old friend spilling their problems. "RIP Trayvon" ah I see the /pol/tards' discourse on /mu/ has already been decided. When he goes into the falsetto in this "mode" it feels sort of like Kanye's "Runaway", that same limit-pushing feeling, oooh and now a sort of harmonizing... Is vaporwave too dead to say this sound vaporwavey? It has that feeling of a forgotten classic being contemporalized... oh now back to normal voice. "Let you guys prophesize, we gon see the future first", and then actually going way tf in? The way his rapping verse lunges out of his singing voice is so compelling. "Sipping pink gold lemonades" idk if that's a brand but that image is super evocative. And that gentle rolling guitar in the background yes, this is the place that only he can go, this is the sound he alone has discovered. "It's only awkward if you're fucking him too" AND THEN WTF IT'S ACTUALLY KOHH rapping in Japanese??? i can understand some of these words hey thanks anime. "sneaker, nike sneaker" GOT THAT ONE. this is actually so crazy that he has this much japanese on his album. living the dream. next is iosys produced tracks c'mon give in. **

2. Ivy
ooooh the guitar effect is really cool, reminds me of dean blunt's black metal kinda. frank in his "inner voice" and then his "outer tenor" how tf does he do that? "You ain't a kid no more, we'll never be those kids again" :( oh man if this album makes me really sad I don't think I'm gonna be ready for it. It's so... wistful... so many memories. "We both know that deep down, the feelings still deep down, is good" i think... that's a very general and yet deep-cutting feeling. There's something very "private" feeling about this... something that makes me think my "running commentary"-style blogging is extremely inappropriate lol but what are we gonna do. When his voice echoes like that, and he shouts just a little, it's so easy to lose yourself that it doesn't matter so much, how I'm feeling... it's beyond that OMG these vocals around 3:26, that's actually so sick, that's some bowie shit there I think, you suddenly get a little abrasive on 'em, but in an extension of the beautiful... and this crazy noisy outro, omg, sick. **

3. Pink + White
good colour combo. "That's the way every day goes" good first line. sky pink and white ground BLACK AND YELLOW BLACK AND YELLOW YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS uyhgjugyecxec but yes this is beautiful. The piano especially. little patterns that end in just one note being repeated with that sort of insistent rhythm is one of my musical fetishes. oh snap and then this mixup about 1:10 in?? how did he figure that out? and yet that violin is like the setting sun itself... jesus... this is some swinging for the fences stuff... so much confidence in so many of these choices, and yet it's depicting something so secret, so inner, the very essences of his most sensitive feelings. omg and the vocals around 2:20, the panning is so good. the way his conversational/rapping voice cuts through these soundscapes is amazing. omg and nature sound outro, such good contrasts to the last track. **

4. Be Yourself
lol what is this? boards of canada beats and anti-drug rhetoric? on an answering machine or something? it's a pretty good aesthetic, good message too really. frank's relationship with drugs seems really interesting, i think of the track he had on Earl's Doris, uhh, "Sunday". "Sluggish, lazy, stupid, and unconcerned" yup that sounds about right. Woah it's his mom. Lol she gives a pass for medical marijuana. Aw. That's nice.

5. Solo
lol and this one mentions lsd within like 10 seconds well okay. outside after getting kicked out my the police. the way he said "solo" is almost exactly like ab-soul LOL. this is really crazy, how much work his voice is doing on this minimal soundscape, and that little yelping sound, what the hell is that? s-solo... "It's hell on Earth and the city's on fire", "There's a bull and a matador dueling in the sky, in Hell there's Heaven" ummm I think he's overdosed on watching The Holy Mountain hahaha. This is really great though. "Slipping showers and switching socks" so much is in this little image. "All she want is a picket fence, but you protest and picket sign" hahaha. There's such a pastoral feeling to this one, especially with the organ, which makes all the apocalyptic imagery so crazy. Nice. *

6. Skyline To
skyline... TO?? Toronto??? the city i live... near?? hahaha. oh damn again this sort of "nostalgic guitar"... a platonic ideal of a guitar... "that's a pretty fucking fast year that flew by", "pretty fucking underneath moonlight now" hey he switched us on that one. "Summer's not as long as it used to be, days come so fast these days", nice ahhhh. Who is doing the ad-libs? Is it just another one of Frank's seemingly endless voices? The synths around 1:50 are sounding a bit BoCish again, which like I know he fucks with Aphex Twin so I'm sure he's heard Music Has the Right to Children, and it seems like he really got it wow. Unlocked that sound too. SMOKE. oh man, when he goes full choral composition with his harmonies, it's almost too much, TOO beautiful. *

7. Self Control
LOL he really loves this vocal effect, I think I love it too. that contrasted with this porch on beach on island guitar is really funny. "You cut your hair, but you used to live a blonded life", "wish I was there, wish we grew up on the same advice", maaaaaan. So does the vocal effect signify a shift in perspective? I feel like so much meaning is going over my head but at the same time i also feel like frank is saying shhhh its okay just enjoy yourself. UFO is for some reason one of my favorite words to hear in music/anime/anything. "You made me lose my self-control" oooh and then he's harmonizing with the weird vocal effect, that's niiiiice. Woah okay now we are going to... space. Space with no looking back. And then he works in this space, in this new range, so confidently and so fully... I really can't explain it... it's like everything shifts up with him, all that potential... Oh man this sample at the end? What is that?? I think I love that, and I love anything spammed like that... So good. Perfect summer night sound. *

8. Good Guy
Another interlude sorta thing. With the Chance church piano basement chords, but then "You text nothing like you look". I really like this, it captures a rare moment of like, mid-creativity, and yet it still feels so realized... like Radiohead's classic "How I Made My Millions". Nice.

9. Nights
o DAMN, a title like this I think he's gonna put in work to live up to. Awww yeah, "Even though you got boo boo family", I think he likes that word a lot lol. "Working through your worst night" feels very real, very close. "Why your eyes well up? Did you call me from a seance? You came from my past life", man, a lot to unpack there... "This feel like a Quaaaluuuuude", I feel like this drug should be more popular in rap for how much fun it is to say. The drums on this one are pretty sick, just the slight little pickups and stuff. "Roll some marijuana, that's my true vacation, my everydaytion, my every nightion", the way that swept between like... dreamy and depressing... that's the range he is the king of lol. Woah woah woah, the way the beat is breaking down here? Again with this sort of harshness being unveiled from beauty? and o this BEAT SWITCH here?? i can't tell you how much i'm feeling this. "Every night fucks every day up/Every day patches every night up" omg and then the bass coming in, this is godlike. Shots at the rich reverend, a theme of increasing frequency in hip hop. And then the vocals from the first part coming back in this new beat, it's like the true night has been revealed, the inner night, awww damn that was good. ***

10. Solo (Reprise)
UH WHAT, i recognize this voice. am i hallucinating? is this a vocaloid?? is this ACTUALLY ANDRE RAPPING? yes no one else can write a verse like this and OMG THIS BEAT and i am too shocked to understand even a word but that's okay cause i'll listen to this fifty more times tonight. jesus what the hell? hahaha a shot at ghostwriters, "Was I working just way too hard?" well hell yeah but you also made some of the greatest hip hop ever so uhh that's okay that's fine. ***

11. Pretty Sweet
UH WOW, this is pretty sweet. This is like... well, like pretty much nothing else. like world's end girlfriend maybe. and then these vocals, this piano, the effect, that huge swooshing thing, i feel like the end of the world is swirling all around me, again shoutouts to only world's end girlfriend hahaha. jesus what the seriously though how did he come up with this? "Fathers of the world, be kind to the mothers of the world"? is that what he said? OMG AND THE DRUMS, omfg what, HOW? and then the children's choir? i stg he's been listening to virgin babylon music and learning extremely quickly how to add these elements together. wtf was that that was incredible. ***

12. Facebook Story
lol oh man i wasn't ready for this contrast. i wonder who this is talking, this french person... "Accept me on Facebook!", i wonder how many times this exact scene has played out in so many relationships. Facebook, what a strange thing.

13. Close to You
And now something crazy again, these little loops, this vocal effect... this again feels very close to something, something i love but can't remember right now because it makes no sense for it to be so close to this, to be reminded of it at this juncture, what a crazy album. ahhh and the classic why do birds suddenly appear, shoutouts to the simpsons.

14. White Ferrari
this title just makes me think of post malone/white iverson lol. oh man the way those instruments were building in the background... and omg what a sort of chiptuney thing lurking back there too? did he just go through "text to speech/texas speed/takes its toll"? is frank ocean actually the smartest lyricist in "the game"? how does he keep bringing back this guitar and making it feel like a punch to the gut every time? "Mind over matter is magic", well it sorta is really. and these explosions of crowd sounds and such... these staticky decaying sounds... i gotta invoke radiohead here... but that combined with these tender echoey vocals... it is a whole new thing, it is an entirely new emotion i'm feeling i think. ahaha and then the little drum kit at the end. that's perfect, that's too perfect. **

15. Seigfried
Like Sigurd? Like Frank is actually the most well read person in hip hop? "I can't relate to my peers" yes this sounds like a well read person hahaha. "I'd rather chip my pride than lose my mind out here/Maybe I'm a fool, maybe I should move and settle/Two kids and a swimming pool/I'm not brave" holy shit. And brave, of course, like our Seigfried. "I'd rather live outside", and again that really haunting violin, and this splattering electric guitar, "What would you recommend I do?", these sort of lines in soul songs always cut so deep. And these vocal effects, "This is not my life, it's just a fond farewell of two friends"? Is that what he's saying? holy shit again if so. "Speaking of nirvana, it was rare" Or maybe "it was there"? These vocal effects are godlike... so much emotional, like... structure... being able to articulate these feelings in this way... how is it happening? "Do some shrooms, maybe have a good cry about you/See some colours, might hang-glide off the moon" yeah sounds about right. And this repeating "in the dark", holy moly. And wow as they turn up the gain and the pan on these effects, just bit by bit, we once again see that abrasive edge, so haunting, so real... Ahh, I love it, I love it. **

16. Godspeed
AND NOW POST-ROCK?? is there anything this man can't do?? lol jk. alternatively i could have made a trance joke. in no scenario would i be able to predict this song. like that giant welling sound into "I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU", holy moly. and again just this little gospel feeling, but it's like the distant memory of church, cloudy but fond. "You look down on where you came from, sometimes, but you'll have this place to call home, always" feeling this rn. And now I think this is Kim Burrell singing, ahhh, just these perfect little interjections... so lovely... and that little toylike piano... the very sound of nostalgia, referenceless drifting nostalgia. wonderful. **

17. Futura Free
okay here we go, 9:24 minute finale. is futura the name of a... font? and this is the free version? if i was a nerd i'd know what it looked like lol. ahhh man, these lyrics, this is actually fantastic, these sort of "making it" stories will never not make me smile, and the way that strange voice has been so humanized through its appearances, this is a real kanye-style ranting tangent hahaha. but oh my god in the background, that big crunchy beat, stormy and cloudy, again, what the hell does it remind me of? Music in Yume Nikki maybe because I am going crazy. If it can actually keep building and flowing like this for 7 minutes is crazy. "Trying to find 2Pac/Don't let em find 2Pac"? 2Pac on the last track, this is Frank's To Pimp a Butterfly confirmed. "Tyler slept on my sofa", nice. Planning on smoking after his huge tolerance break, cause this is the last track, ayyy. "You can change this track now, I woulda changed it a long time ago" hahahaha. Nah I'm really feeling this. "24 times 2 24 times 2"? is that what that other vocal part is saying? And that piano too, and this conversation sample... so much going on. Ohhh, is this a secret track sort of deal? I guess I'll just hang around then and supplement some mechanical keyboard percussion lol. Okay street interviews? oh man and again this BoC sort of dreamy kids show loop, so beautiful. "What's your first memory?", "What three superpowers do you wish you had?", I wonder where this came from? This is really fun. And that loop omg. Really breaking new emotional ground. Unsure how I even feel but I'm sure feeling. Really excited to go back and listen to "Solo (Reprise)" 50-80 more times tonight lol. "Do you have a secret talent?", this is so childlike and wonderful and real, so much fun. And the way they mixed the street sounds. LOL is he interviewing OF people? "I play soccer, and I go to school". "Alright, that's it". Ahhh. Ahhh. That was nice. That was a good time. "How far is a light year?" A very very long distance.


I joked about it earlier but I really do think there's an interesting parallel between channel ORANGE to this and Kendrick's GKMC to TPAB. channel ORANGE and GKMC, although bold and conceptual and daring enough to include 6+ minute tracks and long digressions about death and stuff, still seemed to operate in a mode of gaining appeal, of drawing in more fans and convincing them of their talent... there was appeals to catchiness, appeals to impressiveness, things like that. On TPAB and Blonde, no one needs any more convincing, there is nothing left to prove, there is no further heights of critical praise they need to aspire to.

And as a result, they can work wholeheartedly on personal passion projects like this, speaking about the things that matter to them, in the ways that are meaningful to them, bringing to bear a musical legacy spanning decades and genres to express these messages. Like TPAB, I'm sure this album will have great social relevance... not only his understanding of America's tensest race relations in my lifetime, but Frank's position as one of the few prominent LGBT people in hip hop give him a rare and valuable perspective that needs to be heard. He's already proven himself to be extremely insightful and compassionate, and I can't wait to further unpack his big messages. But, also like TPAB, I hope the intimate connection between the album and his personal feelings isn't overlooked.

There are some very tender, very special, very complex feelings that are fueling his music, and they manifest beautifully both lyrically and sonically. Things like nostalgia, accomplishment, appreciation, sure, but the most powerful ones are the ones that we don't have words for. And yet, by some miracle, you can hear them here! You can hear them and feel them, receiving transmissions in frequencies you didn't know you had. And that itself is beautiful.

But there's a lot of beautiful stuff that we can get into words, and hopefully you'll love that stuff even if the paragraph above made no sense to you. We got KOHH rapping and Yung Lean singing on an outro, so this is already a tri-continent affair. Add in Andre's verse coming from rap-Valhalla and it becomes inter-dimensional. We get gospel, BoC-style ambience, apocalyptic orchestral, and screen door acoustic guitar blended into an intoxicating, creamy, cloudy, R&B tonic. The fact that he can bring all these influences and styles in a single project with this much cohesiveness and consistency makes it seem like 4 years would be, if anything, insufficient.


Anonymous said...

at it again with reviewin pirated albums. fuck off.

Keatsta said...

i only linked this review on what.cd so...???

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