By Nick Erickson, Staff writer
After the release of 2011’s “Nostalgia” and winning a Grammy for “Channel ORANGE,” the world-renowned singer Frank Ocean dropped beneath the radar, even going as far as to delete his Twitter. Just as many had started to lose hope of him making a return, the singer resurfaced last week after a four-year hiatus. With him, he brought the world “Blonde.” It’s a minimalistic mixture of R&B and accessible pop, equipped with top-name guest features. Are these 17 tracks worth the past years of building anticipation? Given the amount of depth and influence felt within the record, one could definitely say yes.
Album opener “Nikes,” is a swarm of drums and reverb-laced synth pads. Ocean’s voice is highly filtered, yet it’s nasal enough to feel human. As odd of a way to kick off a record as it may be, it manages to draw in attention to detail.
Following suit is “Ivy,” which feels more organic than the previous track. No longer processed, Ocean’s voice smoothly transcends between low crooning and high falsetto, while two layers of electric guitars help him float through the track to the climatic ending. It’s the yang to “Nikes” yin, and proves after just two songs how diverse Ocean is in his compositions.
The singer Beyoncé’s added vocal “oohs” enrich the beach-resort atmosphere of “Pink + White,” along with the subtle, jazzy bass. Kendrick Lamar offers a few bars on “Skyline To,” and Ocean couldn’t have picked a better rapper to accompany him on the track, being one of the most thought-provoking in the game today. The sampling of a mother’s phone-call to her son against his potential marijuana and alcohol abuse, and the transition into a duo of Ocean’s voice and organ chords sets the mood for “Solo,” which offers up the R&B vibes many come to Ocean’s music for, and his ability to flawlessly move his voice around on this track could woo anyone unfamiliar with his talents.
Ocean puts a variety of feeling to every track on the record, from light-heartedness to tracks with darker undertones. The group vocal chanting, guitar arpeggios and somber vibes engulf “Self Control” flow into the short, Rhodes piano-driven “Good Guy,” where Ocean sings of his damaged love.
Gospel singer Kim Burrell features her mesmerizing vocal range on “Godspeed,” adding yet another dimension to the soundscape, leading the way to album closer “Futura Free.” The track fades in with some spoken-word from Ocean over the pulse of heavenly chords and a simple trap beat, which resolves the album. Afterwards, a loop of ambient chords, static and conversation play out for a few minutes.
“Blonde” is more raw voice and emotion, less radio-tier production. Ocean has proven favor of acoustic instrumentation over traditional, synth bass-driven pop. When the electronics are there, they are tasteful and add color to the sounds, rather than drown out the passion behind the beats. “Blonde” isn’t conventional by any means, but it’s inventive and undeniably catchy. Ocean is back, and hopefully the hype it’s induced will keep him from lurking into the shadows once more.