Album Review: Blond by Frank Ocean

01 Dec Album Review: Blond by Frank Ocean

Let me set the scene for you. Imagine that you are at a party, the clock ticks midnight and people slowly leave. You’re still there, all alone by yourself, left to clean up the mess. The loneliness and emptiness creeps in. Your mind drifts off to the past, both better and worse times, for what is nostalgia better at than embellishing the past? At the end of memory lane, you’re left feeling a sense of comfort, a warm solace. Familiarity.

This is what listening to Frank Ocean’s sophomore album feels like. The Blond experience isn’t an overwhelmingly joyful journey, where you feel empowered and inspired to be the best version of yourself that you can be. Instead, Blond is a quiet album, taking you on tour through Ocean’s memories, accompanied by nostalgia and sentimentalism. It’s a deep dive into his reclusive life, his trauma and heartbreak.

The album starts off with Nikes, slow with haunting synths, the surreal environment of the song further enhanced by the contrast between Ocean’s artificially altered, high-pitched voice, and his normal, raw vocals. His autotuned voice sells us a dream. His grounded voice pulls us back to earth and into reality. The track is a mockery of consumerism culture. It is a criticism of society’s hyper-fixation with materialism, and it calls out the glamour as shallow and superficial. The dollar signs and gold are just meaningless facades, with no substance hiding behind them, a message very needed in our world today. 

The pessimistic wake-up call is followed by soothing trips down Ocean’s memory lane, comforting and reassuring. Ivy, a tender memory of Ocean’s first love. The nostalgic, comforting guitars and synths put you at peace and create an ethereally delicate atmosphere. His warm vocals float you through hazy memories and snippets of Ocean’s first love. Pink + White, with its driving drum beat, allows you to sway along to Ocean reminiscing on the good memories he’s had with the unknown subject of the song. With hints of majestic orchestral instruments and Beyonce’s angelic voice featured as supporting harmonies, the song is lifted into a heavenly ambience. 

After a brief intermission, Be Yourself, where the mother of one of Ocean’s friends calls them to preach a lesson about the dangers of drug taking, the album strips down to just a lonely synth and Ocean’s dynamic voice in Solo. The track see-saws between Ocean’s fast, straight-forward rapping, and his soulful, expressive vocal belts in the chorus. The solitary atmosphere of the music matches the meaning of the song, an exploration of loneliness and social isolation. The album slips into another interlude of sorts with Skyline To, similar to Solo with the alternation between Ocean’s blunt rap and his soaring vocals, accompanied by a quiet piano melody with an eerie synth. 

Blond falls back into a traditional, acoustic R&B ballad with Self Control. The track has Ocean soulfully singing about a past relationship he has had, with sombre and regretful feelings spilt. The harmonies in the outro immerse you into Ocean’s emotions, the waves of his feelings lapping over you and enfolding you slowly. The album then slips into another interlude with Good Guy, a raw and unpolished track. In a short time of just over a minute, Ocean’s lyricism gives us clear imagery of a disappointing blind date that Ocean has had. 

The track that follows is Frank Ocean’s magnum opus. Nights is an absolute masterpiece. The track marks the halfway point of Blond, specifically with the chill-inducing beat switch in the middle of the song being placed dividing the album into two exactly equal parts. I can never do justice to how magnificent and magical this song is in a short paragraph, but I will try my best just to give a brief taste. Nights start off with a groovy beat with familiar chiming guitars, sharing good vibes. The track winds down into a gentler ambience, eventually blending into Ocean’s voice as he heartfully proclaims “all my life / Been ready for you all my life”. A discomforting and unsettling synth starts up in the background, creating overwhelming chaos with a dissonant guitar, then crashes. The song dramatically shifts as the beat switches to a down-tempo, sombre and spacey instrumental. An air of loneliness and melancholy engulfs the track, with Ocean’s sorrowful vocals tiredly recounting his experiences after he was displaced due to Hurricane Katrina. 

Solo (Reprise) is another standout track on Blond. It is solely a rap verse by none other than the hip-hop legend André 3000 of Outkast. The song is short and rapid – a stark contrast to the long and slower songs of the first half of the album. André 3000 covers so many topics, from police brutality to ghostwriters and manages to weave them all together effortlessly on top of having a sick flow. Pretty Sweet is another rapid song, the structure diverting from previous Blond tracks. It is chaotic with multiple, seemingly clashing sections stitched together. The song switches from a cacophonic intro to heavenly harmonies, to a fast-paced electronic section, ending with a children’s choir. The track sticks out very much in the otherwise quiet and cohesive album.

After two interludes with a skit in Facebook Story and distorted harmonies in Close To You, the album kicks back into its stride with White Ferrari. The track is beautiful and enchanting, and Ocean’s vulnerable vocals seep heartbreak. Seigfried is another quiet favourite of mine. The surreal synths and Ocean’s reverbed vocals fully immerse you and transport you into another world, into the vivid emotive imagery of his lyricism. Seigfried is an otherworldly experience, with delicate piano notes and floating synths bouncing off the walls of an expansive space that the song creates. The killer combination of the lyrics and sonics reaches into your heart and soul.

Godspeed feels cathartic as Ocean comes to peace with a break-up, leaving on good terms with the other person. As the penultimate song, it is a perfect conclusion to the album. Even through all the bad times and heartbreak, you will be okay. Everything comes to an end and that is fine. We finally get to the epilogue of Blond, Futura Free coming in at just under 10 minutes of running time. This track is a direct reflection of Ocean’s life and the impact of his fame. Ocean spends the first half singing about his thoughts on what he has achieved thus far and his worries that he will face the same demise as other young stars. The second half is a skit, an old interview by Ocean’s then 11-year-old brother. The conversation eases us back into the real world, out of the dream-like environment Blond created for us. 

Frank Ocean is one of the most influential and innovative artists of the last decade, and Blond perfectly encapsulates his genius and artistry. You do not have to be a fan of him to appreciate this album, as the songs explore universal themes and feelings. They elevate you to another dimension for exactly one hour. The feelings elicited are indescribable on paper and can only be reached by listening to the album.

Lin Swe Hlaing – Year 12

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