Likes: Self Control, Solo (Reprise), Close To You
Dislike: Nike, Ivy, Seigfried
Overall: A quasi-artistic album of avant-garde filler, with occasional melodic promises that only prove to delude the listener.
The incomparable Janet Jackson once said, "There's something to be said for not saying anything." I'm starting this review with this quote because it's the "something to be said" for Frank Ocean's "not saying anything" sophomore LP Blond (the French spelling of the masculine adjective “blonde”). After a 4-year sabbatical being an elusive chanteur, Ocean comes back with a left-field sounding, scandal-inducing and highly underwhelming double release (Blond comes with a visual album entitled Endless that was essentially a throw-away project he made to scam his label, à la Joanne The Scammer). Although there are genuine instances of harmonic and melodic beauty (ex. "Self Control), as well as insightful lyrical realizations (ex. "Nights" discusses cowardice and hypocrisy in equality pursuits), you can't fully appreciate them for being bombarded by their monotonous and aimless surroundings. The 10% of beauty and "ah ha!" moments aren't worth enduring the 90% of gloomy (yet airy) and repetitive production choices, and extensive, droning verses that might as well be him talking. Scam.
When he's actually singing, Ocean sounds amazing. The vocal performances throughout the record were for the most part entrancing, especially when he emotes. His lower register takes the cake over his higher chest and head voice. In some cases, he uses his voice in more unconventional means, such as purposefully singing out of tune or using the "Prisimizer" effect in "Close to You" (an effect that manipulates a single vocal and produces synthesized harmonies in sync with that vocal). The production is evasive, but not entirely unattainable. I acknowledge this style of music isn't so far beyond the realm of being listenable, and it can be done in an effective manner. Although it doesn't suit my personal taste, it has an interesting quality where you can get used to it after the initial shock of lacking rhythmic percussion and the overuse of simplistic, ceaseless chord progressions wears off. Since it takes up to half of the album for this sensory adaptation to occur, re-listening to Blond will be required.
It would be erroneous to not also acknowledge that Frank Ocean is a genius as it pertains to creativity and album concepts. The subtle touching on various subjects, like sexuality, race, religion, drug use and self-worth in the face of meaningful, but unhealthy relationships (friendships, familial and romantic) are worth noting. It's clear that he had a direction in compiling this body of work. The problems, however, are painstakingly obvious and Ocean's genius wasn't enough to cover them. This project was too big of an endeavor for him at this time, as he doesn't seem to have a fully-developed artistic identity yet. It can be assumed that Frank has a perception of himself that doesn't necessarily translate well on wax. Take for instance the opening song, "Nike," a commentary on the consumerist and materialistic social climate that has affected our psyche. The beginning lines make the song's point clear, but Ocean ends up rambling in a stream of consciousness, going from bragging about his sexual performance (i.e. "But if you need dick I got you...") to referencing the unlawful death of teen Trayvon Martin literally two lines afterwards. Further, the Martin lyric is purposively aware, but is a crass dismissal of the racial climate that lead to his death (i.e. "RIP Trayvon, that ni**a look just like me"). It's not that Frank can't pull a record of this caliber off; I just don't think he has the tools in his arsenal right now to make it happen in such a way that will leave people in awe or with a changed perspective on life.