Endless – Frank Ocean
There is no doubt that when a musician creates a game-changing emotional-emancipating masterpiece such as Channel Orange, people are going to want more. There no doubt that after waiting 5 years for an album, the hype around the most wanted contemporary artist will be higher than ever – to the point where even his teenage brother is getting asked about the progress of any new music. Frank Ocean left the scene for a long period of time, only making small appearances on other peoples projects such as Beyonce, Jay Z, Kanye and a few others. His last single was released 3 years and 5 months ago (Super Rich Kids). His newest single is ‘Nikes’ from Blonde. Not only has Frank ocean kept his fans and the entire music community on edge on his whereabouts, if he was even still alive and a potential new album. Many of his fans were also wondering where he would progress to following a very daring first studio album.
Finally Mr Ocean satisfied earbuds and eyeballs in the world when he released his magazine Boys Don’t Cry, followed by Endless, and then his second studio album Blonde. Blonde has already received many reviews from countless critics and fans, the general consensus is that this album is rather laborious listen for fans who do not fully understand Frank Ocean. Whilst Blonde stands in the foreground, a large shadow has been cast over Endless. Perhaps it is because at first glance Frank Ocean just seems to be building random blocks and putting them together. Or because it is quite boring to watch multiple Frank Oceans moving around in a room not doing anything eye-catching or particularly exciting after a 5 year wait.
Endless, opens with ‘Device Control’, which plays as a sort of genesis for the album. It directly feeds into the vibe of the entire album which is very eerie and ghost-like, mimicked also by the equally eerie and at time lethargic visuals. What most listeners may not pay attention to is the themes explored in just the 23 seconds of this opener. Speaking about technology and the advances we have made, whilst hinting at the possible damage it may be causing to human interaction and the ‘blurring of the line’ between reality and fiction.
‘At Your Best (You Are Love)’ is a breathy and melodic version of Aaliyah’s song of the same name, which coincidently is also a cover of the original Isley Brothers song. Instantly most would interpret the song to be about his first love who he wrote about in December 2011. This is not just another classic love song, as Ocean’s stripped-back, breathy vocals really validate and echo the emotion and passion he had in the written letter. However, Ocean is unexpected so it is not ideal to be conclusive to what the song is about. We can only assume from the information he has shared with his fans.
‘Alabama’ is another eerie track featuring Sampha, whose interaction with the track is not apparent until the last few seconds of the song. ‘Alabama’ is a disappointing track as lyrically it falls off the wagon a few times and structurally feels uncomfortable to listen to.
‘U-N-I-T-Y’ is a mid-tempo track. Ocean’s flow begins very laid-back, and the instrumentals are drowsy and laid-back as well which then lead to him singing a balance between current social affairs and somehow bringing it back to his upbringing. The message of the song is fairly clear here: Humans need to unite and help each other.
There are tracks in the album that a very short-lived and samples of film clips or Oceans own ideas. ‘Mine’ is filled with reverb and loops of an excerpt of a poem Ocean released on Tumblr in 2014. Obviously speaking on the effects of a comedown of the drug ecstasy, it is not unusual for the listener to interpret this as being part of a bigger theme such as the ecstasy of love and how depressing unrequited love can be. ‘Ambience 001 – In A Certain Way’ is only 11 seconds long and would definitely be missed if someone was watching the visual album. But for some it may bare heavy significance to Ocean’s sexuality or alliance to the LGBTQ community. Similarly ‘Ambience 002 – Honeybaby’ is a sample from Gal Costa’s “Vapor Barato” – crying out “I need me a honey baby”. The proceeding track ‘Comme des Garçon’ is a fruity and short summer jam that starts with a flittery beat and floaty rhythmic vocals accompanied by very full harmonies. Again on the surface, some may interpret the lyrics as a comment on Ocean’s relationship with the men in his life; although, there seems to be more to the words fluttering out of Ocean’s mouth.
‘Wither’ is exactly how it sounds. Nice themes are explored such as longing to die naturally and wither away in old age like a plant rather than die dead and shine his light to his grandchildren. Although I cannot say it is the best song to listen to, it is symmetrical to the visuals displayed. ‘In Here Somewhere’ is mostly fully instrumental and has a nice backdrop. It is arguably the most sonically interesting track on the album, especially for Ocean.
Sonically simplistic compared to the other songs, the vibe emitted by ‘Slide On Me’ is similar to most songs on Nostalgia Ultra. The beat is accompanied by acoustic guitar plucks and the usual layering of vocals to create an ominous sound, similar to that of ‘Florida’. The falsetto vocals in ‘Deathwish’ mimics that of ‘Bad Religion’, which brings the concept of unrequited love putting you in the control of the other person in full circle.
The visuals of the album are mundane in its majority and peculiar at it’s best. The final building of the staircase to heaven is a major cliffhanger that may not have anything to do with Ocean’s personal anecdotes he has revealed to us. But perhaps the visuals are a comment on the human experience in general? In a technological age where everything is attainable through a click, flick or a swipe, watching 45 minutes and 52 seconds of Frank Ocean building a staircase will not entice most of our generation. It truly is a workout to experience this visual album. However, I am led to believe that whilst this may be a slight joke on his fans about the wait they have had to endure, everything Ocean does has a meaningful message behind it. Otherwise, what would be the point of music?