Blake Williamson is an undecided freshman who writes "Blake's Beats" for the Daily News His views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. Write to Blake at email@example.com.
You thought you knew Frank Ocean. You thought the man that disappeared for four years would return with just a follow up to the acclaimed "Channel Orange." I bet you wouldn't think he would return with an ambitious, elegant, mature and downright gorgeous piece of music.
His growth from the previous album to this is evident in every note. The opening track "Nikes" is a intricate, sprawling piece touching on social issues like the death of Trayvon Martin and ASAP Yams. One of the criticisms of this track is the manipulation of his voice to almost create a chipmunk song and that it feels out of place. I think that the vocals add a unique touch to the track and adds a certain endearing quality. As expected, love and relationships contribute a lot to the subject matter on this album. On "Ivy," he touches on a love that got away and how things were simpler when he was younger. The next track "Pink + White" features some piano playing that sounds like it drifted out of an old southern church and thoughtful lyrics about how things were when he was a young man, cruising around in his granny’s car and stealing her cigarettes to ease the pain. You can hear soft background vocals sung by Beyonce near the end of the track.
"Blonde" is an album filled with stories. Frank never gives you the full storyline — he leaves it up to the listener to pick out bits and pieces and figure out the picture for themselves. The stories often start in the middle and are filled with so much imagery and thought-provoking lyrics that you feel like you're right there with him, in the backseat.
If I had to pick any song that would characterize how I feel about this album, it would be the ninth song, "Nights." The song exemplifies the album's creativity, tone switches and ambition. Lyrics like “After 'trina hit I had to transfer campus” describe the hardships he and his family went through in New Orleans after being devastated by the hurricane, moving to Houston and then ending up in Los Angeles.
The legendary Andre 3000 delivers a stunning guest verse on "(Solo) Reprise" where he touches on things he's seeing after being in the game for 20 plus years. There is a little jab at Drake in there when he says “After 20 years in, I'm so naive / I was under the impression/ That everyone wrote they own verses,” regarding Drake’s ghostwriting scandal of last summer.
The beauty of this album lies in its simplicity, knowing that less is more. Outside of a few tracks, the production is very minimal, oftentimes just a simple guitar strumming in the background and luscious vocals by Frank.
After sitting with this album for about a week now, it still feels as fresh with each listen as it did the first time I listened to it. Making music that has staying power is a tough feat in today's microwave society of Spotify and Pandora when listeners only spend time with an artist for a song or two. An album this intricate, heartfelt and ambitious is definitely a leap in 2016, but it is a leap I am thrilled Frank took.