By Braxton Randolph
For the better part of 4 years, internet lurkers and real-life humans alike all wondered the same question: “Where’s the album, Frank?” It was in 2012 when Frank Ocean last gifted fans an album in the form of Channel Orange. Fast forward to 2016 and Frank has finally emerged from his beach house in Idaho. Back on August 1st, a link to a strange video stream surfaced on Frank’s website, boysdontcry.co, which appeared to show Frank doing some type of woodwork with instrumentals playing in the background. We later found out that the stream was promotion for the visual album Endless, which would later stream in its 45-minute entirety on August 19th, exclusively on Apple Music.
Unlike with other visual albums such as Kanye’s Runaway or Beyonce’s Lemonade, Ocean opts to force listeners to scrub through the project to skip songs. Unless you have somehow (illegally) obtained the track-by-track format of the album, the listening experience is like none other. It’s hard to pinpoint when each song starts and stops, and Frank’s transitions don’t exactly help the cause. However, at the same time, this is what gives the listener the ability to get lost in the entire body of music.
The intro of Endless opens with a sample of the robotic tune from Wolfgang Tillmans’ track “Device Control.” Frank begins to work on what will eventually become a staircase, rumored to symbolize life, and the climb we all face. A cover of the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best (You Are Love)” follows the sample as the first full song. The song shows off Frank’s dynamic vocal range as he hits high notes reminiscent of R&B singer Maxwell.
As Frank continues to work on his staircase, the next song, “Alabama,” is introduced. It features British vocalist Sampha and Frank singing overlapped lyrics about his aunt-in-law and Reebok Classics. The album then goes through a 30 second transition in the form of “Mine.” The only lyrics to this are “How come the ecstasy always depresses me so?” However, Frank gives the recording an effect that sounds like multiple voices speaking at once, which makes for an inevitable trip for the spaced-out listeners.
“U.N.I.T.Y,” which starts around the 9 minute mark, is the following song, which showcases Frank’s rapping abilities and vocal skills. He also flashes his wordplay abilities as he plays on the theme of unity by stopping short of the full spelling when he says “U.N.I.T.,” and “U.N.I.” (You and I) in the beginning to give the title more meaning. My personal favorite stage in the album consists of two songs with a transition in the middle. It starts around the 27 minute mark, titled “Rushes and Rushes To.” Frank vocalizes the apparent ups and downs in relationships over the vibrations of an electric guitar on “Rushes,” and details them more in story form in “Rushes To.”
In my opinion, compared to its arguably more popular counterpart, Blond, Endless has more of the soulful, modern sound that R&B music in 2016 should have more of. Frank once again shows why he’s one of the best vocalists, as well as writers, of our generation with this masterpiece.