Nathan was right when he wrote, “The idea of a Frank Ocean album had overwhelmed the reality of an actual Frank Ocean album.”
Nothing about Frank Ocean feels real, he is like an illusion that has transfixed a generation of music lovers. It’s been four years of faux release dates, April Fools jokes, misleading sources, cryptic messages, and an undying anxious anticipation that has made Frank Ocean the man into someone shrouded in mystique and the Channel Orange sequel into something mythical. After all the waiting, he finally returns with new music in the form of a visual album.
Endless, the visual album title, is 45 minutes long, and is currently being hosted by Apple Music. Currently, you aren’t able to buy or download the music as separate tracks. Frank wanted listeners to sit and watch him build a sprawling staircase as the music he’s been crafting in a cave somewhere graces our ears. I adore the artistic innovation and vision, but after four years of waiting this isn’t how I imagined his next project would be digested. There’s rumors that another album, Boys Don’t Cry, will be coming soon; even when he steps into our world, even when he allows us to feel a moment of normalcy, Frank Ocean continues to defy our rules of reality.
I don’t know what to expect from Endless, I don’t know what to expect from Boys Don’t Cry, it has been an exhausting time to be a fan of Frank Ocean, but I can’t pretend that I’m not excited.
There’s very little left to say about Frank. In his absence, we have said it all. For this 1-Listen review I’ll be watching and listening to the Endless video and documenting my gut-reactions. I can’t stop, pause, or rewind at any point. It’s going to be 45 minutes of being re-introduced to an old friend.
1. "Device Control"
White noise and a shot of the warehouse. A voice comes in, sounds robotic, vampiric, a robotic vampire. An abrupt silence brought everything to an end. The song stops and doesn’t continue until after the last song. This is what I heard once the song started again: A strong Daft Punk, electronic kind of vibe. “Your life can be streamed,” I believe the voice says. This is extremely creepy, but also eerily hypnotic. The pulsing house/electronic beat is one of the more fleshed out ideas in terms of production. The progressive transitions are far different than anything else on the album. I guess that’s the end, which is the beginning, so I guess it is Endless.
2. "You Are Love"
A quick switch to Frank’s cover version of the Isley Brothers/Aaliyah's “At Your Best (You Are Love).” It feels like a decade came and went since the song appeared on his Tumblr. Frank’s voice is soothing. I like his falsetto, showcasing a bit more vocal range from the jump. This is a classic, sung beautifully, but I’m ready for the album to really get started. I'm realizing a 1-Listen review for an R&B album is vastly different than a rap album. The pacing is noticeably slower, I can feel the impatience rising into my fingertips as I wait to get slapped in the chest with new heat. Also, how do I know when songs end? Frank is making this difficult. Okay, well that just ended
This is... interesting. Frank is rap/singing with a crazy panning, it’s like the vocals are bouncing all around my ear drums. I kind of like it. He's talking about his family, New Orleans, but the vocals are rushing over each other and it’s hard to make sense of this. There’s the sound of light piano keys grooving in the background. A wild James Blake just arrived. I love how James Blake always sounds like he’s stuck in a blizzard and he's singing his last words before going into hypothermia. He is the Articuno of music makers. The beat stopped and Frank is mumbling something. Silence. What just happened? There's a new beat so I’m assuming the song ended
*insert short anti-climatic pause.*
Rapping Frank! He has a flow that is similar to Blue Whale, but it seems more refined. Very detailed. Production is minimum, it barely has a presence, Frank is in the forefront. Wouldn't mind more of this. This is one big mindfuck but I like this song. I think. Especially the end.
6. "Ambience 001: "In a Certain Way"
I don't know when these little interludes start and end. I need the files, Frank.
7. "Commes des Garçons
This is a terrible 1-Listen experience but this song knocks! Finally a beat with some life, and Frank sounds energetic. He's bobing and weaving as he's rapping and singing. It’s rather short but seemed to be a strong interlude. Caught a slight Drake vibe. Beats are starting and stopping. Nothing is lasting longer than a minute
8. "Ambience 002: "Honeybaby"
My mind is spinning. I feel like I'm stuck in the matrix after deciding to take both the red and blue pills.
Another beat change. Elegance is the perfect word to describe the ambiance. I don’t know if it’s just the audio stream but his vocals sound rougher than the crisp Channel Orange. He still has the soul. Is that Jazmine Sullivan doing background vocals? Saw her name on the credits. The two are ad-libbing together in a sweet harmony.
This album is moving at the speed of a blue hedgehog who collects gold rings and battle evil scientists with weird mustaches. Trying to get a grasp on the direction is trying to hold an electric eel underwater during a lightning storm. I’m afraid to even start to like something due to the fleeting pace of the tracks starting and ending. I believe this song is Hublots and it has a James Blake vibe, but as I feared the song was over just as I started to enjoy it.
11. "In Here Somewhere"
Another beat change. Elegance with some edge, there’s some vocals that sound like they’re lying underneath the rolling hi-hats. This is what an alien invasion would sound like if martians came down to Earth in spaceships blasting trap music. If you’re familiar with Archy Marshall's A New Place To Drown it reminds me of that project - dark, minimal, and puzzling.
12. Slide On Me
Already an early favorite. Less experimental, more traditional in sound. Vocally he sounds strong. More detailed storytelling. Frank’s gift for imagery is one reason he’s a favorite of mine. This album has the strangest mix. A song that would sound best under the stars during a road trip. His vocals sound like they’re bouncing from various directions. Yeah, this is by far the song that sounds the most complete. If there was any one song I would keep, it’s this one.
Frank’s rapping sounds deeper, slightly screwed, slow, but the hook is catchy. Frank really likes to rap over the most minimum production - he wants these bars to be heard. My head aches. The album has no real structure, which is funny since the artist is building a staircase. There’s nothing to indicate where the songs begins or ends.
Soft hums. A woman and Frank’s voice. Has a gospel feel. Preparing for Bishop Eddie Ocean to take me all the way to the heaven gates. A weird, sparse percussion. James Blake ice cold vocals are saying something but this didn’t last long.
15. "Deathwish (ASR)"
Okay… A slight pause and then Frank singing about a death wish. Another trap-driven banger. Frank’s voice is slithering around the track like Voldemort's Nagini. What the… Just ended.
Getting Nostalgia, Ultra vibes. There’s no telling who Frank could be talking about. But I’m loving this subtle electric guitar strumming slightly in the background. Frank’s singing, and Jazmine’s background vocals are love birds. Endless really does feel like Frank's version of Archy’s A New Place To Drown but not as dark with more rapping.
17. "Rushes To"
With 14 minutes left I’ve never been so confused. Oh these DRUMS! Now we're cooking. Rhythmically, this is a groove. As far as instrumentals go, this has been the album’s most daring. The chords, the hi-hats, the bassline - the tempo is fast and woozy. Still no vocals. Sadly no vocals. Beat change to a very soft piano as Frank is singing in that cryptic narrative that has been his latest approach to storytelling. I’ll need a Genius genius to help me understand the context. Higher notes are being hit and my soul is lifting. NOW THIS IS FRANK OCEAN. I feel like I’m climbing the staircase. Is he saying “I’m Back?” I think so. This is the Frank I want back.
Is this the last song? Could be? I still have about eight minutes left on the video. This has bounce. Another cool flow. He has improved as a rapper. In both flow and presence. Beat just dropped and it feels like dropping acid in Alaska with a tribe of penguins. Then it just ends.
I feel like the final scene of K.I.D.S when Casper awakes, turning to the camera and asking, “Jesus Christ, what happened?" Endless is full of moments where you question what’s going on - song transitions, vocal panning, even the lyrical narrative is far more puzzling than Frank’s past work. It's going to take more than one listen (obviously) to really get into the deep depths of what Frank was aiming to accomplish with this visual album. On a strictly surface level, Frank has explored an entirely different ambiance and sound than anything he’s done before.
Channel Orange was polished like a car that was meant to be in the middle of a showroom so eyes can stare at it’s beauty; Endless is far more chaotic, minimal, and ambitious. I really do see the similarities between him and King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is nothing like A New Place To Drown.
The Frank Ocean that you will hear on Endless is different than the one who disappeared four years ago. If Frank has truly crafted two albums, this one was more of an experimental side project. Artistically, he dared to do what he hasn’t and will likely see mixed reviews. I’m far from pleased, but there’s a compelling desire to revisit. Within all the confusion, I want to dive deeper into these uncharted territories.
Endless isn’t the follow-up album that I dreamt of, but its different. Different isn’t always better, but it’s more interesting when change comes unexpectedly. So if you like different, if you find change exciting, a new Frank Ocean awaits you in a workshop building a staircase.
By Yoh, aka Yoh Puddle, aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Apple Music