Frank Ocean’s “Skyline To” & the Passing of Time

There is so much to miss in this life. If we’re not careful, it feels like we could spend entire days pining after what was.
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The shorter the night, the sweeter the evening. Think of how we can bask in the summer sun even as the clock strikes seven, eight at night. Think of the pang in your chest when the nights cool and the sun sets earlier, earlier, earlier until darkness overcomes the city before the 9-to-5 ends. Think of the contrast between speeding home in daylight and mucking about in the dark by 4:30 p.m. 

In the summers during undergrad, my buddy would come to see me after his time working in the factory. We’d speed down to the shore and lose track of time. It felt like the sun would never set. It felt like each night was our bid at infinity. We’d sit on a toy pirate ship and sing songs, make our way to the jetty, let the seafoam bubble over our feet.

That was some years ago. Now we live in different cities. We have different lives. It all happened so fast. “That’s a pretty fucking fast year flew by,” as Frank likes to say on “Skyline To.” 

Produced by Malay, Tyler, The Creator, Om’Mas Keith, and Frank Ocean, “Skyline To” is but two verses, one far shorter than the other, musing on the passing of time. Everything about “Skyline To” is urging us to save time, to cherish memories, to realize things are moving so quickly. 

This is joy, this is summer / Keep alive, stay alive,” go the opening lines. We need Frank to remind us time is fleeting, to remind us joy won’t last, and we have to fan its flames for as long as possible. ‘Til our arms give out, ‘til our hearts burst, we have to keep our happiness alive.

In conjunction with the writing, the gentle swells of the guitar sell the emotion of “Skyline To.” How the production is so simple, yet the emotion is so vast. 

Then we get a loving and spiraling instrumental break. It climbs higher, higher, until we sound as if we are floating in outer space, looking down on the Earth we just left, and all the life we’ve done our best to live. The production feels choral and precious, feels like a constant unfolding. “Skyline To” is a freshly bloomed peony in hand, pink and layered and gorgeous in its ease.

Like much of Blonde, like most of Frank’s more touching songs, “Skyline To” is structured as a series of brisk vignettes. We go from summer memories to “gliding” down the highway, to “pretty fucking, underneath moonlight” all within the first verse. 

Really, it’s the lines about “pretty fucking” that capture the essence of “Skyline To:” “Pretty fucking, underneath moonlight now / Pretty fucking, sunrise in sight / In comes the morning, haunting us with the beams / Solstice ain’t as far as it used to be.” 

Where morning is meant to represent new beginnings, Frank chooses to ascribe it as “haunting,” with “beams,” reminding us of the lights on police cars. Suddenly, the morning feels like a trick, like something sent to steal us from our happiness. The image pairs well with the final line of the four, where we realize things have changed forever, and maybe not for the better.

I have a hard time with change. Sometimes I realize everything is different and cry my eyes out, thinking about all the sweet memories that are nothing but. I bawl at the thought of those nights on the water, and how they only exist in the past tense, because the necessity of life is to be continually moving away from what we love—perhaps towards better days, but, still, leaving something behind. 

Frank knows this pain well, the pain that comes with aging out of frivolity and blithe evenings. He sings: “It begins to blur, we get older (Blur!) / Summer’s not as long as it used to be / Every day counts like crazy (Smoke, haze).” The present is blurring, always becoming the past before we can grip it tightly. Anxiety fills the space of “Skyline To,” then, when we realize there is so much still to treasure and so little capacity.

It’s the final line of the verse that stings the most, though: “Can you come when I call again?” The implication here is Frank has called before to no answer. The implication here is Frank is feeble, desperate, and hoping for a better outcome. 

Remember all the people we used to call at the strike of any news? Where are they now? Would they pick up if they saw your name flash on their screens? Everything is different now. Your once first-phone-call becomes an afterthought. Who you share your life with evolves. You look around and realize, in an instant, nothing is familiar. There’s terror in change—which all of Blonde posits—how it is so silent and all-consuming.

This terror is why “Skyline To” reads like a purposefully incomplete title. It mimics how distant things can become, how out of sight they can be. The skyline can thin, night becomes ever-present. Summer ends, and the horizon darkens. You’re expecting more, and it’s just not there, the time has passed. It’s sudden. Terrifying. 

Then we get the second and final verse, which begins with Frank singing, “On comes the evening, gold-seeking ends.” Think of the most glorious sunset—the great streaks of light marking the end of August—and how evening and morning are the same now. They both expose the passing of time. They both reveal us to be straining against the clock’s rushing forward.

I always pause at “Piece in my hands worth twice than a friend,” struggling to decide if Frank is singing about gold, drugs, or “peace.” Why not all three? First off, we’ve got the idea of wearing a piece of jewelry, and how a chain symbolizes so much in terms of status and culture. Then, we’ve got the idea of a bowl in hand, how smoking weed takes Frank to a better place. Finally, we have these two ideas combined into the notion of Frank finding peace in his lonely life. By the end of “Skyline To,” the past is so far gone, these things must be “worth twice than a friend” simply so Frank can cope and not waste away missing his past.

There is so much to miss in this life. If we’re not careful, it feels like we could spend entire days pining after what was. “Skyline To” deals with the passing of time as an eventuality, sure, but it also reminds us to live for the present. If only because the song hurts so good, the more you dig into the lyrics. “In comes the morning (smoke) / In comes the morning (haze),” Frank warns to close “Skyline To.” Be careful; he seems to say, this, too, will pass. Everything will change. There will be no more trips to the shore, no more long nights by the water. There will be new loves and new trials. Savor what you have. Savor every last wisp of it.

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