Frank Ocean’s Blonde turns five

The acclaimed album is more than a collection of songs.

The end of August marks the fifth anniversary of Frank Ocean’s 2016 masterpiece, Blonde. The album came a day after the release of Ocean’s Endless, a visual album released under Def Jam Recordings. This was a punch in the gut to Def Jam, seeing as Endless satisfied the conditions of Ocean’s contract with them. The promotion used for it ended up generating attention for Blonde, which was released under Ocean’s own label, Boys Don’t Cry, exclusively licensed to Apple Music for a deal rumoured to be worth 20 million dollars.

Independence plays a large part in both the conception and musicality of Blonde. Throughout the album Ocean has multiple solo writing credits, and most others are just him and a few others –– a feat that is becoming uncommon in an increasingly collaborative music industry (Kanye West’s “Pure Souls” from Donda alone has 11 writers credited, as a recent example). Moreover, there is not a single song on the album that does not list Ocean himself as one of the producers.

On the surface, Blonde is the most airy sounding project in Ocean’s discography, where the majority of the album is upheld by gentle chords, beatless melodies and drum loops. Yet instrumentals are not the focal point of this album: the storytelling is. Still, Ocean’s minimalist approach to the production stretches the definition of R&B pretty thin, creating the ethos of this album with an emphasis on lyrics and story. In this sense, he threads a needle, touching on places and feelings but never giving enough away to the listener for any major dots to be connected.

In a 2016 New York Times interview, Ocean describes his commitment to his storytelling on the album, saying, “How we experience memory sometimes, it’s not linear. We’re not telling the stories to ourselves, we know the story, we’re just seeing it in flashes overlaid.”

Following a strong opening collection of songs with “Nikes,” “Ivy,” and “Pink + White,” Blonde reaches its midway point with “Nights.” The first half is bolstered by an upbeat rap and spoken word track that sees Ocean describing a previous relationship. After the guitar-laden beat switch moves into a calmer, more subdued rhythm, Ocean raps about his history having moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In a BBC interview he admitted that he hated it at first.

Part of what makes Blonde such a complete and cohesive work is its use of skits, interludes, and a reprise to tie everything together. The use of interludes starts as a voicemail on the fourth track, “Be Yourself,” and continues onto the following tracks, “Good Guy,” “Facebook Story,” “Pretty Sweet,” before ending with “Close to You” as the last interlude leading into the album’s final four tracks. What these tracks do is almost equivalent to a palate cleanser before the album progresses into the following songs. Towards the end of the record, the narratives of “Facebook Story” and “Close to You” set up the broken-hearted ambience that is laid down by Ocean’s love story gone amiss on “White Ferrari.”

To put Blonde into words is not an easy thing to do. There’s a lot going on at the same time but it works. It is the sound of a vision fully realized, and there is something ineffable about the way this album felt back in 2016. Around its release was a very special period of anticipation and excitement that brought people together in a way not many artists have been able to match since then.

To this day, Blonde has aged beautifully. It has received widespread acclaim, and has since become the zeitgeist of a special period in music: the 2010s. Considering the story behind the album and how it has continued to inspire musicians since, it’s fair to say that Blonde is a record that will transcend time and continue to be revered as one of the best albums of our generation.


The hidden track: a lost art gone too soon

Now that we know everything about an album before it drops, hidden tracks are a thing of the past

It’s time to pour one out for one of the streaming era’s most cataclysmic casualties: the hidden track. This sneaky little song would usually appear off the coattails of an album’s “final” cut, usually letting it finish out and breathe for a few seconds in complete silence before a bonus track would start playing.

Most of the time, these tracks would start unbeknownst to the listener, who would just assume the album had ended and would either eject the CD or remove the vinyl record from the player. But if they’d kept listening, they might hear a bonus cut that didn’t make the official tracklist. Major artists like The Beatles, Aerosmith and even Frank Ocean opted to use a hidden track in at least one project.

On the streaming version of Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, the album ends with the aptly titled “End” which serves as a lo-fi closer to an otherwise pretty straightforward album. On the CD version (an archaic device), the track sits in a couple minutes of silence. Then a beat started playing which turned into a full song, “Golden Girl.”

The song has since not appeared on major streaming platforms and exists as a loosie track on YouTube where a casual listener might not know it existed as a bonus on the album. “Golden Girl” may have been the last time we saw a hidden track too.

As the state of music continues to move away from physical media and to digital streaming platforms, having a hidden track is, well, sort of impossible. We can see every track and its respective length, so if a concluding track runs over seven minutes and the song stops three minutes in, it’s a safe bet to assume there’s more coming.

That element of surprise from the CD and vinyl era is gone. The art of listening to an album has become the same across the board. We know exactly what we’re getting, how much we’re getting, and if there is some sort of bombshell revelation about a new album, you can bet it’ll be spoiled within an hour of the album dropping. Thanks, Twitter.

Even old albums that had a hidden track can’t contain that secret. Ginuwine’s classic album Ginuwine… The Bachelor technically ended with “G Thang,” but on streaming services there is not one, not two, not even three, but five (!!) different “Silent Interlude” tracks that lead into the (not-so-well) hidden track, “550 What?”

Though it’s probably for the best that these tracks have come to the surface and become widely accessible, the loss of hidden tracks in the streaming service hurts. We know everything about an album when it drops. Track lengths? We know them all. Features? Unless you’re Travis Scott releasing Astroworld, we know those too. Production credits? Maybe a bit harder to come by, but they’re there in the credits (which reminds me, pour out another one for the booklets inside CDs).

The streaming era killed the brilliant physical media marketing and tricks an artist could pull to entice the listeners into wanting more. Sure, this probably seems like an “old man yells at cloud” take, but one can only hope that artists find new ways to surprise us when we already know way too much.


The power of Waves’ soundtrack

How Waves soundtrack elevates the film’s themes of teenage angst and depression

*Spoilers ahead*

The trailer for Trey Edward Shults’ film Waves scared me, initially. It was vague and cluttered with songs that most teens would compile into a generic Spotify playlist entitled “Vibes.” When I finally watched the movie last week, I was shocked. The movie wasn’t as corny as the trailer made it out to be and the soundtrack, to my surprise, elevated the film’s themes of teenage angst and depression.

The opening scene shows the protagonist Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) driving with his legs out on the freeway as his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) sings along to “FloriDada” by Animal Collective. The track encapsulates the ever-freeing sentiment of being a teenager in love.

In the first truly pivotal scene of the movie, Tyler receives news from Alexis that she’s planning on keeping a baby that they accidentally conceived not long before. After a failed attempt to convince her to get an abortion, “IFHY” from rapper Tyler, the Creator starts playing as the protagonist gets up off his chair and begins to trash his room.

There could not be a better song to go with the scene as Tyler’s newly-formed resentment to his now ex-girlfriend fits perfectly with the “IFHY” about hating then loving a woman he dreams to be with forever. The track bounces back and forth from soft melodies to an aggressive hook where he yells, “I fucking hate you, but I love you.”

The movie quickly switches courses when Tyler, who can’t cope with the idea that his girlfriend is seeing someone (she isn’t), goes out to a party that leads to his eventual arrest.

Unsurprisingly, Frank Ocean leaves his mark all over the A24-produced film. Many tracks off of his beautiful Blonde and Endless projects make their way onto the film, especially in the first half, with songs like “Mitsubishi Sony” and “Rushes” eerily pointing out what comes next in the heartbreaking film.

The second half of the movie deals with the aftermath of Tyler’s actions. Particularly, it focuses on Tyler’s sister Emily (Taylor Russell) and how her brother’s arrest has forever changed her life. She meets Tyler’s old teammate, Luke (Lucas Hedges) and falls in love with him. The second half also puts Frank Ocean’s Endless on the forefront as three tracks from the project play in succession.

The ending of the movie pairs Radiohead’s beautiful “True Love Waits” with Emily trying to make amends with her estranged mother. The two had a falling out after Tyler’s indictment and hadn’t spoken to each other until Emily sent a tear-jerking text that paved the way for a hopeful, yet still depressing ending.

Waves’ reliance on a 2010s-heavy soundtrack is a sign that the movie is for our generation. Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Tame Impala, and H.E.R., among many others, make their mark on the heavyweight film that will resonate with the youth more than it might with adults. The story is universal; everyone will understand it. The soundtrack, however, is a direct glimpse into how music affects our thoughts and actions.

Waves is for everyone, but really, Waves is for the kids.

Graphic by @sundaeghost.


The most anticipated albums of 2020

2019 was an excellent year for music – can these 2020 releases top it?

Drake – TBD

As expected, the chart-topping king will return in 2020 after a fairly quiet 2019. Scorpion came and went in 2018 and despite its long run in Billboard’s charts, failed to resonate with most of its listeners. It was too long, too safe, and the number of bad songs outweighed the number of good ones. The year 2020 represents an opportunity to return to form. No longer shadowed by a deadly beef that kept criticisms of the rapper high, Drake can release an album on his terms with his own promotion.

“War,” the first new bit of Drake we’ve seen in a while, borrows elements from Chicago’s drill music and the UK’s grime scene, but ultimately wound up being just another passable moment in his lengthy discography. Let’s just hope the new album is less filler and more killer.


Frank Ocean – TBD

The elusive Frank Ocean has been confirmed to headline 2020’s Coachella after releasing two singles (and a few other snippets) in 2019. When Blonde came out, the R&B singer was difficult to track. Now, it seems he’s ready to embrace the fame a little bit more as he’s been sneaking in new songs at various events he’s hosted throughout the year. “In My Room” and “DHL” weren’t as well-received as his previous songs, but perhaps they’ll sound better in the context of the album.

We still have no indication of when the album will drop, but we do know it’s coming (eventually).


Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush will end a five-year drought from the Australian music project, Tame Impala. Backed by a few singles like “Borderline” and “Posthumous Forgiveness,” the fourth studio album from Tame Impala is shaping up to be another strong entry to their already proven discography. Thankfully, the wait is almost over.


Rihanna – TBD

Look, this one’s been floating around since Anti dropped, and the hype for Rihanna’s newest album keeps growing as every Instagram post of hers has a wave of comments imploring her to release new music. Anti was stellar and whatever kind of project Rihanna decides to drop, we’ll be accepting it with open arms. Twenty-twenty needs this.


Kendrick Lamar – TBD

We all knew this one would be on the list. I mean, it’s been three years since DAMN. and we want more. The Black Panther soundtrack was passable and Lamar’s features continue to be subpar but we can all agree he has yet to release a bad album. His follow-up to the acclaimed 2017 project is expected to be an Album of the Year contender across the board. There is absolutely zero confirmation that an album is on the way this year, but one can only hope.

Lana Del Rey – White Hot Forever (tentative)

Immediately after releasing her best album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey announced she had another project in the works with an expected release in Fall 2020. The tentative title is White Hot Forever but she also stated that it could change. Del Rey reached new heights with NFR and expectations will undoubtedly be sky-high for this new record.


The cuisine of music

Sometimes albums remind us of food

People who have chromesthesia see music in colour. I, instead, have foodsthesia. I see music in terms of food I’m familiar with.

Food and music are both cultural objects, imbued with a sense of identity and belonging. Not only that, both can be appropriated and sold to make tons of money, so they’re even more palatable for the mainstream. Both are celebrations of who we are as people.

Food is actually very evocative; it conveys culture, conceptions of class and even time, as certain food in different cultures is tied to a celebration or holiday. Almost every culture loves to share music and food. They bring people and communities closer together, bridging the gap between different cultures, even if for only a short amount of time.

So much description and identity can be gleaned from food, so this exercise in comparing it to albums can create a new layer for musical criticism. Or maybe this will be just fun.

Fish and Chips

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) by The Beatles

I chose fish and chips, partly because The Beatles are British, but also because Sgt. Pepper is a good album full of classic hits just like the dish. As with fish and chips, I won’t seek out this album, but once or twice a year, I have the urge to go back to Sgt. Pepper. I’ll have a good listen, and I’ll forget about it for another year.

Beef Tartare

The Money Store (2012) by Death Grips

Death Grips are generally aggressive-sounding, but they have a lot of depth to their music. I am immediately reminded of beef tartare by the band’s overall sound, because both are an acquired taste. I totally understand why people enjoy this album, but like beef tartare, sometimes its rawness is too much for me to handle. Maybe one day I’ll truly appreciate this album.

Deconstructed Cheesecake

Homogenic (1997) by Björk

Homogenic goes for a pop-experimental sound, yet what’s there is so sweet. Like the album, deconstructed cheesecake intentionally lacks the structure and shape of regular cheesecake, looking fancy and strange, but the sweet flavours still shine through.

Steak and Fries

channel ORANGE (2012) by Frank Ocean

This album is meaty and filled with so many great tracks, my favourite being “Pyramids.” Ocean’s melodies are sensual and emotional. The substantial tracks, like “Sierra Leone,” are the steak, because they are flavourful, fusing amazing instrumentals, lyrics and Ocean’s vocal range. Meanwhile, interlude tracks like the delightful “Fertilizer,” are the fries you eat in between the steak. The track proves that side dishes are just as important as the main course. And I’m always in the mood for steak and fries.

Shrimp Pizza

Uyai (2017) by Ibibio Sound Machine

Uyai is the shrimp pizza of albums. Both just hit the right notes for me. It’s the bonding of different elements that I love about this album; the electronic beats, acoustic instruments and the rhythmic singing mesh so well together. Shrimp pizza is analogous, because pizza is a melding of different elements. The crust, the sauce, the cheese and the special toppings fit together harmoniously.

All-you-can-eat buffet

MM… FOOD (2004) by MF DOOM

This album’s theme is literally food; go listen to it.

Whitewashed hummus

Reputation (2017) by Taylor Swift

Hummus has a long history in the Middle East. It’s flavoursome, dense and richly textured. But white people appropriated hummus, stripped it of flavour and history, and made it super bland. Reputation is Swift’s lacklustre hummus. She changed her sound from country music to R&B-inspired beats and melodies, meanwhile bringing up old grudges that few people care about. Swift’s album is uninspiring and tasteless, despite the fact that her other albums were pop hits and in her own style.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Upcoming albums of 2018

Some of the best records to look forward to in the new year

The famed Atlanta trap trio released the companion piece to last year’s smash-hit Cultureon Jan 26. Members Quavo and Offset stated last year that the album would be released in October 2017. Now that the album is out there, the shaky details are crystal clear. The album is a veritable who’s who of rap, including guest spots from Drake, Big Sean, Gucci Mane and 21 Savage. “MotorSport,” an October collaboration with Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, was included among the cuts on the album. Expectations are undoubtedly high, as a followup to the group’s platinum career-maker “Bad and Boujee” is what’s really on listeners’ radars.

Porches’s 2016 debut on Domino Records, Pool, mingled minimal synth beats with colourful production flourishes. Released on Jan. 19, Aaron Maine’s full-length, The House, features a plethora of gold-standard guests, including (Sandy) Alex G and Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes. In terms of the album’s sound, Maine told Pitchfork he wanted to capture the quality of a home-recorded demo. The record’s lead single, “Country,” is a true testament to this approach, gentle and drenched with reverb.

My Bloody Valentine
According to front man Kevin Shields, shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine will release an album in 2018. “A hundred per cent,” Shields confirmed to Pitchfork last year. As both a followup to 2013’s mbv and a rare release from the group, the project will reportedly be “more all over the place” than its predecessor. According to Shields: “This one is like if somebody took that and dropped some acid on it or created a dimensional clash or something.” The band also released analog remasters of Loveless and Isn’t Anything on Jan. 18.

No Age
More than a decade ago, Randy Randall and Dean Spunt emerged from the grimy gutters of  Los Angeles’s DIY punk scene, releasing five EPs and two albums of noisy, hyperactive rock music. After regular stints at legendary DIY venue the Smell, they secured a record deal with Matador Records. This gave them the professional backing to hone their unique hybrid of nihilist punk energies and ambient noise across a decade-spanning career. On “Drippy” and “Soft Collar Fad,” the first two singles from their upcoming record on Drag City, the band sounds revitalized, tapping into vibes that made them a formidable force to begin with.

Sky Ferreira
Following a series of cryptic tweets and hushed word-of-mouth hype, Sky Ferreira’s followup to her excellent 2013 debut album, Night Time, My Time, has been in a stagnant state of production hell. The release has been delayed for several months to make room for Ferreira’s budding acting career. Her acclaim as a singer has been put on the backburner in exchange for film and TV roles, including appearances in Baby Driver and Twin Peaks: The Return. Though Ferreira opened up about the album’s progress, teasing in April that new music would be released “very soon,” this is one we’ll have to see to believe.

FKA twigs
In February 2016, still fresh off her 2014 debut masterwork, LP1, FKA twigs released “Good to Love,” a somber single that further expanded the reaches of the singer’s experimental sound. This year will see the release of the singer’s first set of material since 2015’s surprise-released EP, M3LL155X. Recently, she has teased “Trust in Me,” a new collaboration project with ambient producer Oneohtrix Point Never. With this release, the prospect of new material in 2018 isn’t too much of a stretch.

Frank Ocean
The reclusive Frank Ocean released a small number of singles in the middle of last year. And after vowing to release a followup to 2016’s Endless and Blonde, Ocean went to Tumblr to clear the air. In a post, he indicated he has two mixtapes in the vault that would count as his third and fourth full-length albums. “I JUST AIN’T PUT THAT BITCH OUT!” he posted in November.

Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt’s last album, the spacey I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, was the rapper’s last public release. Aside from sharing a guest verse with Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul on Danny Brown’s menacing “Really Doe,” Earl’s activities in and outside the music industry have been few and far between. He has also been performing a fair share of new songs live. The idea of a new LP could point toward a proper return for the Odd Future provocateur.

Music Quickspins

Frank Ocean – Blond

Frank Ocean – Blond (Boys Don’t Cry, 2016)

His picturesque storytelling and mellow voice with smooth R&B beats were greatly present in this album. The whole album is a story to follow, from the first track up all the way to the end. Compared to previous album Orange Channel, Blond is much more experimental. There are many collaborations, such as “Pink+White” which features Beyoncé’s beautiful vocals in the background, making the song magical. There’s a skit called “Be Yourself” in which a woman sends strong messages about being true to yourself and the impacts of drug abuse. His track “Solo” is sung from the soul, giving the song great depth. Ocean’s lyrics make you want to understand and put together their meanings. “Nights” is a roll your windows enjoy the sunset low key type of track. Frank Ocean mastered a great work of art. Overall, very creative.

Trial Track: “Nights”


Exit mobile version