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Album review: ‘Blonde’

(Boys Don’t Cry)

By Emaan Baqai

Aug. 24, 2016 3:58 p.m.

Hearing his voice surface on a real track from his new, real album was like coming up for a breath of fresh air after being submerged in water. After several disappointing postponements of the album, fans can finally emerge from Frank’s ocean.

Frank Ocean’s long-anticipated second studio album, “Blonde,” was in many ways what listeners might expect: characteristically nostalgic tracks packed with subtle double entendres. However, collaborative innovation distinctly defines this album. As Bon Iver’s haunting outro melds indie folk to Ocean’s mix of pop and hip-hop to complete “White Ferrari”, listeners are reminded that Ocean is king of collaborations.

The onset of Ocean’s rap in “Nikes,” completed by the ethereal guitar strumming in the background, revives the song and successful segues into the second track, “Ivy.” The soulful ballad “Ivy” may become the next “Thinkin Bout You,” featuring Ocean’s raw talent in its least synthetic form.

Lyrically, “Ivy” also has the capacity to hit fans in the gut. When Ocean croons, “If I could see through walls, I could see you’re faking/If you could see my thoughts, you could see our faces,” his memories of a past love rush forward through the thickness of emotion in his voice and in his classic falsetto. Vaguely upbeat yet synthetic guitar chords reminiscent of Mac DeMarco’s style resurface themes of nostalgia omnipresent in his work in a profoundly new way. The more explicitly Beach Boy-esque style juxtaposed against the harshness of his tone as he screeches, “I could drive all night/Drive all night/Dreaming, dreamin'” creates a shift in tone that encapsulates regret.

“Pink + White” also paints a vividly nostalgic picture, transporting listeners to an era of teen angst and young love. In a reference to his life during Hurricane Katrina, “Cannonball off the porch side/Older kids trying off the roof,” Ocean masterfully describes his trepidation towards life while alluding to his past. As the high from smooth drumming and unadulterated piano fades, listeners are cushioned artfully by the soothing blend of Ocean and Beyonce’s backup vocals in the outro.

Interludes like “Be Yourself,” “Good Guy” and “Facebook Story,” which could easily get buried beneath the album’s full-length singles, are refreshing breaks from dissecting his longer works and surprisingly striking.

“Be Yourself,” a recording of a mother preaching against drug use, originally seems purely ironic when juxtaposed with the lyrics immediately following it in “Solo”: “Hand me a towel I’m dirty dancing by myself/Gone off tabs of that acid.” However, it easily doubles as an emotional listen that genuinely encapsulates a parent’s good intentions for their child.

Although Ocean delivered a satisfying analysis of his own head space in “Blonde”, in some senses it feels as though it’s too much at once. With 17 tracks, the album inundates listeners without providing time to absorb and appreciate the contents towards the latter half of the album. However, listeners can appreciate Ocean’s progression within his own life thematically, with subtle allusions to his own sexuality that define his growth.

Ultimately, “Blonde” feels as though it is both a continuation of his first album, “channel ORANGE” and also the next rung in the ladder for Ocean.

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Emaan Baqai | Alumna
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