What Does It Mean to Have a Favorite Album?

Frank Ocean's 'Blonde' is 60 minutes of moments that haven’t grown stale; on the contrary, they've become more enjoyable with age—as a favorite album should.
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“Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader” —Vladimir Nabokov

When everything operates in a person’s favor, it’s like they won a lottery of luck. Ice Cube embodies this delight on his 1992 classic single “Today Was A Good Day.” Each verse illustrates the random coincidences creating his idea of a faultless 24 hours. 

For the man born O'Shea Jackson, a day of cosmic conveniences is the Los Angeles Lakers beating the Seattle Supersonics, going to Short Dawg’s house and Yo! MTV Raps is on the television, walking past the police without being harassed, and not blasting his automatic weapon. It’s the little victories keeping us going, not the biggest trophies.

“‘Okay, there’s been the riots, people know I will deal with that. That’s a given. But I rap all this gangsta stuff — what about all the good days I had?’” —Ice Cube (The Greatest Songs Ever! It Was a Good Day)

Good days are often like revisiting a favorite album. The feeling they’re able to conjure is special. Every song speaks a language that’s effervescent and refreshing. You’re ready to sing along because you have memorized each word. Knowing an album so intimately is similar to how drivers know their cities; they can locate the potholes, where the backroads are hidden, how to avoid traffic and cheat the chaotic rush hour. 

There are no surprises when you're driving on the roads in your home city. The same comfort of familiarity exists in bodies of musical work that lives with a listener.

What Russian-born novelist Vladimir Nabokov states in the opening quote about good readers is true of good listeners. The enchanting albums which draw return visits become meaningful after weeks, months, and years of replaying. Not each revisit is with a critical ear; favorite albums live and breathe in every kind of space. 

Favorite albums soundtrack joy when hearts are full and bring comfort when hearts break in halves; they are there during drunken stumbles, trips on shrooms, long journeys to new destinations, and short flights back homeward. Favorite albums are companions that become best friends and the soulmates of your spirit.

Social media has brought creators much closer to consumers through Instagram and Twitter, but albums remain the most dependable form of connection. “If you ever get lonely you can just go to the record store and visit your friends,” said Penny Lane, played by a young Kate Hudson in the cult classic film Almost Famous

Her sentiment acknowledges how music is a supportive outlet. No matter how much the eras change, the favorite album—the album, in general—will matter. There’s a wholeness made accessible when an artist produces an entire world. Albums are a portal to a place that playlists and singles can’t open. 

Frank Ocean's 2017 collection of loosies from his Apple Music blonded Radio series is noteworthy—they are arguably some of his best songs—but their quality isn’t equal to what 2016 albums Blonde and Endless offer as complete projects.

Blonde is one of my favorite albums of all time. I feel confident in making such a statement after three years of replaying the album's 18 tracks. What draws me back to Frank's long-awaited Channel Orange follow-up is how he isn’t coming-of-age, but coming-to-terms with love and relationships. He sings with certainty; the sureness of a man who has loved, lost, and loved again. 

There are no outracing demons in taxis cabs or finding affection in pyramid-shaped strip clubs; Blonde doesn’t conceal its candidness behind well-written narratives or ostentatious production. Everything is stripped naked—musically and lyrically. It’s a world believing only in truth, no matter how unfortunate.

Sincerity is vital when seeking an honest connection, and Frank’s lyrics resonate because they tug on the cords of nostalgic feelings pulled from his personal experiences. The lyric, “Summer's not as long as it used to be” isn't a complex thought, but speaks to how adulthood changes our relationship with time. 

“I let go of my claim on you,” from “Godspeed,” the penultimate track on Blonde, is another example. There’s a maturity to the sentiment accepting the end. Often, artists deliver love from a place of passionate fascination, and without much strain, the feeling can grow obsessive. Throughout Blonde, instead of being an overbearing ex, the former Odd Future songbird finds solace in acceptance. 

Adulthood will teach firsthand the difficulty of acceptance. Frank knows this; he also knows there are many things in the world, outside of people, that require relinquishing for the sake of growth. Adults need this reminder.

Blonde, as a complete collection, is a millennial guide to acceptance aware of the modern world. The album is familiar. There’s a range of subjects he touches on that I have lived and relived. I know moms from the Baby Boomers age who distrust drugs and alcohol, and relationships ruined because of Facebook, and long car rides in silence, and the feeling of facing more sloped hills than upward spirals.

I know what’s going to happen when I press play, but my enthusiasm for the source material remains intact. I feel a friendliness the moment “Nikes” begins with those warm, pitched, childlike vocals. The midsong beat change and flow on “Nights” remain life-changing. My soul leaps when “Solo” suddenly becomes a gospel song during the first hook. How Frank sings, “I'll be honest, I wasn't devastated, but you could've held my hands through this, baby” on “Close To You” is a beautiful haymaker to the chest. The Frank Ocean, Beyoncé, and Pharrell Williams trifecta on “Pink + White” is as angelic today as it was upon release. The many layers of “Seigfried” culminate into a masterpiece every single time. To my ears. Blonde is 60 minutes of moments that haven’t grown stale; on the contrary, they've become more enjoyable with age—as a favorite album should.

I played Blonde this past Saturday. The sun was out without her oppressive heat; there was no traffic on the highway—a rarity in cities like Atlanta where drivers are prone to accidents—my car was running on a full tank without issues, and there’s no better cherry on top than listening to great music on a good day. By the time I reached Party City, “Skyline To” was ending. 

After rummaging through the store for 15 minutes in search of a masquerade mask, I went outside to darkened skies and a downpour of heavy rain. Lightning flashed to my left moments after stepping into my car. Thunder spoke in the timbre of God. It was as if I left paradise and entered the apocalypse.

Staying in the empty parking lot felt unwise. The weather continued to get worse. I reversed the car, pulled up to the red light heading toward the main road, and pressed play on “Self Control” as another bolt of lightning flashed before me. The taste of electricity was on my tongue as the engine roared and Austin Feinstein sang to the heavens, “Keep a place for me, for me.” 

As Frank’s notes grew higher, more emotional, the rain fell harder, and the wind whipped louder. “And you made me lose my self-control, my self-control,” he erupts in a passionate falsetto. At that moment, I realized I had no control over what happens next. From a good day to doomsday, Blonde was soundtracking it all. I pressed the gas harder; laughing at the poetry—laughing with God. 

By Yoh, aka Blonde Yoh, aka @Yoh31

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