By Caroline Meister
Frank Ocean’s new album, Blond, has been exploding all over social media, with people expressing their love for it with 140 characters or less. I finally decided to give it a listen more than a month after its release. The album is lengthy for a mainstream release, with seventeen songs ranging from five plus minutes to barely a minute, allowing the listener a breather in between songs. Although Ocean’s genre of music is not my usual cup of tea, Blond impressed me.
Ocean is not only a singer/songwriter. He is also a poet, a master of mixing media and a musician (he plays keyboard). Although his history is rooted in hip-hop (he is a member of Odd Future), Blond is a mix of genres, including traits distinct to gospel, R&B, hip-hop/rap, and spoken word. This is a medley of seemingly uncoordinated genres works, and the only person who could make it work is Ocean, with his crystal clear voice and impressive vocal range that rivals that of Brendon Urie, of Panic! At The Disco.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Blond, and one that makes it stand out from the latest string of summer releases, is its sharp attack on social issues in the United States. In “Futura Free,” Ocean sings “I feel like Selena,” “they wanna murder a (man),” and “murder me like Selena.” “Selena” refers to the murder of Mexican-American pop star Selena in 1994. One can gather that the “they” Ocean is singing about is white Americans, and the use of the harsh verb “murder” is a jab at the increase of senseless deaths of African Americans, dancing with the topic of police brutality. Another jarring lyric is on the track “Nikes,” where he raps “RIP Trayvon, that (man) look just like me”, referring to yet another senseless death of a young African American, and expressing how many African Americans feel terrified to live in a country that professes that everyone is created equal. The use of social issues tied with historical events is incredible, as the songs really do tell a story of the decline in the treatment of minorities in America, especially of late.
Looking past the impressive role of social activism that Ocean takes on, he also (of course) speaks of love and all the trials that come with it. On “Godspeed,” he croons, “I’ll [he] always be there for you” and “I’ll always love you until the time we die”. However, he contrasts this viewpoint on love in “Solo”, declaring “think we were better off solo,” and of course the literal title “Solo” adds to this. In a way, these differing viewpoints address the complicated nature of love and the blurred line between holding on too long and not holding on at all.
An interesting facet of Blond is its use of mixed media, intermingling skits and interviews with lyrical content. Chopping up the lengthy and perhaps overwhelming musical aspects are songs such as “Facebook Story”, “Be Yourself”, and the end of “Futura Free”, an innovative and ingenious addition to an already superb release. My favorite tracks on the album (in no particular order) are “Solo”, “Godspeed”, “Good Guy”, and “Be Yourself”.
I would highly suggest Blond to anyone with an open mind and anyone willingly to listen to it in a quiet place where one can absorb all the sweat and tears Frank Ocean has put into this album. That’s how you write an album.