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Frank Ocean‘s Blond is an appropriate follow up to Channel Orange. Instead of releasing a predictable and formulaic sequel, which would have been the easy thing to do he dove deep into his experiences as a burgeoning megastar, finding inspiration in life after stardom. It is telling because it shows us that no amount of success or fame can draw him away from his love for the craft. It is nostalgic, sultry and vulnerable. An album that welcomes exploration and truth.

Blond is notably subdued, not passive, but not nearly as freewheeling as Channel Orange. He embraces obscurity and isn’t completely forthright, which leaves much to interpret. It’s pop surrealism at its finest. Ocean brings along some major players, but they don’t interfere with Ocean’s vision, a testament to the respect he’s earned. Ultimately, Blonde shouldn’t be measured against any of his other albums. Instead it should be read as yet another exciting chapter in a growing legacy.

Nikes

Obscuring his voice into something more androgynous is telling of his style, a daring and enigmatic songwriting strategy. The clean-shaven beat is naked and sparse, and the swirling synth on the edges create a dreamlike atmosphere. There’s a number of subjects being discussed including materialism, mortality and love. It’s a strategic intro as it introduces some of the tropes he’ll be exploring:

Nikes

Ivy

No one captures nostalgia like Frank Ocean does. He doesn’t go too far back in time, and he knows how to capture just the right amount of bittersweet. The beat is not a traditional r&b backdrop, and the change of pace creates a different canvas to paint on. The Prince ode in the end is classy, and one can’t help but draw a few comparisons between the two. A universal song with heart:

Ivy

Pink + White

Pharell and Tyler, the Creator lend a hand on the beat and do a good job of not getting in the way. The acoustics offers up more traditional r&b flavors, and Beyonce‘s subtle presence adds a sultry touch. All three superstars take a backseat and Ocean opens up on the topic of love There were plenty of mistakes made, but those setbacks are what inform his perspective: [LISTEN]

pink and white

Solo

The concept of “solo” takes on several different meanings. He breaks down the goods and bads, and in typical Frank Ocean fashion throws in some obscure lyrics just for the hell of it. The bubbly organ and quick shot verses create a gospel vibe that suite Ocean’s expansive style. It’s soft and gentle; early morning heat that rises like bread, but enough attitude to curb lame sentimentality:

SoloEDIT

Skyline To

With the help of King Kendrick, Ocean paints a colorful landscape where love rules supreme. The beat once again lends itself to a dream state and while it fits his stylistic direction, it is something to monitor; too much of it can send an album to outer space, which is not a good thing. There’s a romantic surge that candy coats the song, making it a sweet and heartfelt gesture: [LISTEN]

Skyline To

Self-Control

Ocean’s voice traverses through many different landscapes and maintains its cohesiveness, a testament to his skills as a songwriter. The slight acoustics create a warmth, which allows him to think out loud, revealing his feelings toward a secret crush. It’s a fantasy that many people can relate to and as the confessional unfolds the thought of being with the person elevates him to another level:

Self-Control

Good Guy

A quick glimpse into a life unseen. It’s the first hint at his sexuality and it’s not overstated in anyway; just a simple song with nothing but his voice and memory to guide him. The outro balances the scales and in under one minute we get a vivid snapshot of two vibrant cities:

Good Guy

Nights

A two part song that chronicles some of his deepest frustrations. Each night is like a hammer coming down on him. He’s wrestling with lovers, haters and the pressures that come with being a superstar. The change in the beat signifies a shift in time; he goes back to when things were simpler but no less complicated. He’s zeroing in on the obstacles and how they present themselves at every turn:

Nights

Solo (Reprise)

Another quick-fire song, one that seizes your attention and refuses to let go. Andre 3000 is the leading man, and he opens up about some of things that have kept him out of the spotlight. He spits a mile a minute and sounds as sharp as ever, unleashing a fury of emotion. Frankie sits back and tickles the ivory, and he doesn’t intrude. He lets go, and gives the stage to a friend and like-minded soul:

Solo

Pretty Sweet

The emotions boil over into a firestorm of angst and frustration. The beat is wild and frantic. It rifles Frank Ocean down a wormhole where he’s trying to get a handle on what’s going on. There’s a feeling of confusion, and the children’s choir in the end only adds to the surrealism. It’s not entirely clear as to what he’s referencing, but whatever he’s feeling is bordering on the religious:

Pretty Sweet

Close to You

Yet another short song packed to the gills with meaning. He’s building off a Stevie Wonder classic, but adding his own unique spin. A tale of heartbreak and crushing disappointment. The talk-box adds a touch of madness to it that creates an ethereal feel, and he sounds perfectly at home. He’s adhering to the less is more philosophy and it’s paying off: [LISTEN]

Close to You

White Ferrari

Three R&B stars collide, creating a supernova of emotional writhing. Nothing is what it seems, the feelings hidden between bending notes and obscure lyricism. The beat is mellow and slow, but time is reeling as Ocean unveils some of his most vivid memories. Bon Iver and James Blake have subtle roles, but they have a profound influence on the style and creative direction: [LISTEN]

White Ferrari

Siegfried

Frank Ocean sheds the facade and gives it to us plain. He’s speaking his frustrations and explaining how different he is from his peers; how isolating it all is and the toll it takes. He’s being vulnerable, but admirably brave at the same time hence the title. It’s not common to have a star of this magnitude be so forthcoming, but that’s been his M.O. since day one. All or nothing:

Siegried

Godspeed

Ocean delves into the past to re-imagine a part of his childhood. It’s another chapter in his surreal autobiography and he’s being as compassionate as he can. He’s telling his younger self that everything will be okay, that he doesn’t have to tackle the impossible. It’s a conversation that shows how nostalgia is a major influence on his writing style. The self-reflection is deep and genuine at heart:

Godspeed

Futura Free

Another two part song that has Frankie Ocean reflecting on his success. It pours out of him in a stream of consciousness style and he doesn’t hold back. He name drops a couple deceased superstars, hinting at the mortality of all that he’s accomplished. There’s an absurdity to it, but this is him having fun with it all. There’s no going back and he’s bottling that emotion for future reference:

Futura Free