Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Album Review - Blond (2016)

Blond is an interesting departure for Frank Ocean. 

Artistically, Ocean's disposition is closer aligned with the melancholy of Brian Wilson or What’s Going On-era Marvin Gaye than the lusty transcendence of Prince or Stevie Wonder’s superhuman exuberance. Ocean’s peculiar form of ennui was evident on Channel Orange – his critically acclaimed 2012 release – and it’s apparent again on this latest offering. 

That’s not to suggest there aren’t a range of compelling states and situations tackled on the record. It’s Ocean's unisex approach to physical and emotional intimacy, and his encompassing perspective on unrequited love that makes the new record more than mere curiosity. 

In fact, the theme of unrequited love may be the most consistent aspect linking Channel Orange and Blond. Whether the song is about a deity, a friend, a lover, an invented character, or if Ocean is himself the object of another person’s unrequited feelings, there is palpable, existential longing never far from the surface. 

Blond is arguably a more tuneful record than Channel Orange, which itself was no small fount of sublime melody. On the new album, Ocean dispenses with heavy rhythm, instead using lyrical cadences, guitar (acoustic and electric, played through a variety of effects), and the percussive nature of the piano to provide a pulse for the songs. 

There are beats, of course; sparse, spare and owing something to the sonic aesthetic of Noah “40” Shabib, best known for his work with megastars Drake and Beyonc√©. The lead single ‘Nikes’, and the songs ‘Pink + White’ and ‘Nights’ all feature prominent drum parts, but Ocean’s lyrics and robust melodicism are clearly the focal point of the production.