Frank Ocean returns with minimalistic Blonde

Frank Ocean is an artist that has proven he works on his own terms. Four years have passed since he dropped his critically-acclaimed first album, channel ORANGEIn that time, he’s been fairly elusive.  While most artists would be desperate to be pushing their names and brands while in a period of inactivity in order to remain relevant, Ocean let his music do the talking.  Even in the few weeks leading up to the release of Blonde, no one truly knew when his album was actually going to be released.  Frank Ocean works how he wants to, and that is incredibly prevalent on Blonde.
One of the main traits Ocean is known for is his voice.  He made great use of his tone and range on channel ORANGE, and, naturally, it was expected that he would do the same on his follow up.  That’s why it’s somewhat of a surprise when the opening track, “Nikes”, starts with almost three minutes of distorted vocals.  This is yet another sign that Ocean made Blonde on his own terms.  The distorted vocals work well though, almost as if the opening scene of a movie that is trying to show it’s audience to expect the unexpected.  Nikes also holds one of the most poignant, and politically charged, lines of the album: “RIP Trayvon, that ****** looks just like me.”
However, the distorted vocals are somewhat of a tease in regards to the rest of the album.  Overall, Ocean chooses to be minimalist compared to the overly-produced “Nikes”.  Often times, there are only two instruments in a song, one of them being Ocean’s voice.  One of the songs that this is most effective in is “Solo”, where it’s Ocean, a keyboard, and occasional effects and background “oohs”. The song is that holds different stories of loneliness, although the lyrics can also be heard as “so low” with the fix being getting high. The song also holds the the catchiest hooks, which is somewhat ironic due to the somber meaning of the song.  Another song that captures the minimalist concept of the album is self-control, which almost sounds like an experimental John Meyer song, who Frank Ocean has collaborated with in the past.
Blonde also makes use of interesting transition pieces, wherein it may just be a person telling a story, a mother telling their child to not get involved with drugs at college, or minute long songs, sometimes covers, that then lead into the next full length song.  The most effective of these is three track combination “Facebook Story”, “Close to You”, and “White Ferrari”.  In “Facebook Story”, French producer SebastiAn tells a story of an ex-girlfriend who accused him of cheating after refusing to accept her on Facebook.  “Close to You” is a cover of Stevie Wonder song that’s almost 40-years-old.  It’s heavily produced in a way that almost resembles James Blake or Bon Iver.  The song is mainly about being hung up on a lover that didn’t truly believe in their love.  After these two, short (both about a minute long tracks), the standout of the album, “White Ferrari”, is the culmination of the buildup.  The song has emotional depth unmatched by anything Ocean has release so far, which is saying something when looking at his work.  It is almost a moment of peace in an album full of conflict.  It describes Ocean and his lover driving together and simply talking about life.  Although they have differences, they continue to connect. “I care you you still and I will forever/That was part of the deal, honest/We got so familiar/Spending each day of the year, White Ferrari.” The song credits John Lennon and Paul McCartney as writers, due to a reference to The Beatles “Here, There, and Everywhere”.
Even with features from bigger stars, such as Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, and Andre 3000 (who is especially a highlight on “Solo (Reprise)”). Blonde is undeniably Frank Ocean’s album.  The culmination of four years work is nowhere near a sophomore slump and instead surpasses his already incredible debut album.  If fans have to wait another four years for a follow up, it will be well worth the wait.