For most fans, the wait for new Frank Ocean has felt like more than just four years. However, four years is all it has been since his landmark debut album channel ORANGE firmly put him on the map. Much speculation and anticipation feverishly built up over that time span, with hints at new music along the way that went unfulfilled.
Finally, late this summer, Ocean broke the silence and dropped two new projects. The first was a visual album entitled Endless, which included snippets of songs and ideas, pasted together and accompanying a video of him assembling a staircase in black and white. Two days later, he officially released his second studio album, blond (or Blonde; both are used intentionally in reference to his bisexuality). The record is a testament to Ocean’s ability to blend influences and genres, while escaping categorical definition. It’s a unified, singular statement from the singer, and one that is steeped in moodiness, adolescent nostalgia, reflection and introspection.
Ocean’s voice is more delicate and emotional, and as intricately soulful as ever. His lyrics are painfully earnest and highlight his craft for melody. Instrumentation wise, it’s more sparse than its predecessor, but still quite diverse. Lead single “Nikes,” which was accompanied by a surreal and intimate music video, features a slow, echoing trap beat with ambient organ. “Pink + White” is pure R&B, with a syncopated, relaxed drum groove, light guitar and lilting piano. Warm, reverb-laden electric guitar and shimmering strings define several other tracks throughout.
The album is marked by numerous high-profile guest appearances, but they never overshadow nor even compete to upstage Ocean’s voice. If you’re not careful, you will miss wordless backing vocals from both Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar. André 3000 has a quick, stinging verse on “Solo (Reprise),” while crooners James Blake and Kim Burrell deliver beautiful vocal contributions on “White Ferrari” and “Godspeed,” respectively. Ocean also makes brief but integral use of lyrical references to tunes from The Carpenters, The Beatles and Elliott Smith.
Frank Ocean’s sophomore release blond is further proof that he is a force in the industry. While it isn’t as all around groundbreaking as channel ORANGE was, it is still a triumph and well worth the wait.