Frank Ocean‘s Blond has been four years in the making, and boasts a lengthy list of high-profile collaborators, from Mike Dean to Jonny Greenwood; but the project feels so fully-realized, ambitious and seamlessly sequenced it can’t be argued that it isn’t the work of a singularly-focused artist. Blond is a painstakingly nuanced album–with an effective scope and space.
The album is bursting with individual high points, the melancholy “Ivy,” where Ocean acknowledges a relationship gone bad while also admitting that “deep down–the feeling is good;” the kinetic Andre 3000 showcase “Solo (Reprise)” and the wounded misogyny of “Nikes”–all indicators of just how much is going on with this record. It’s all masterfully done, but we decided to pick apart this moody, dark and indulgent opus and whittle down our five favorites.
These are the 5 best tracks from Frank Ocean’s Blond.
On an album that trades heavily on atmosphere, this downbeat is another rumination on alienation, draped in more of Ocean’s lyrical ambiguities. “I couldn’t gauge your fears. I couldn’t relate to my peers.” At one point, he seems to mock conformity–only to declare “I’m not brave” after admitting he couldn’t settle for “two kids and a swimming pool.” One of Blond‘s most remarkable traits is the way Ocean makes himself lyrically naked while also obscuring so much. More musical nods, as well–“Seigfried” interpolates Elliott Smith’s “Fond Farewell” and samples the Beatles “Flying.”
A beautiful, hook-less gem, Kendrick Lamar served as a co-producer and provides ad-libs over one of Blond‘s most Stevie Wonder-esque moments. The warm synths, nature sounds and rubbery bass evoke classic-era Stevie, as Ocean delivers what is arguably the album’s best vocal performance. Where much of the album sounds detached, here, Ocean is fully present–buoyed by some gorgeously overdubbed harmonies.
One of the most personal moments on Blond is still fairly ambiguous– but it’s the emotive center, not measurable specifics, that gives the song weight. And a heavy assist from gospel star Kim Burrell makes “Godspeed” one of Blond‘s most transcendent moments.
A mournfully wistful tune that sometimes recalls early 2000s Shins and with a subtle nod to the Beatles “Here, There & Everywhere,” Ocean’s sublimely abstract wordplay is effectively rendered–floating airlessly above a bed of soundscapes and acoustic guitars. With an assist from Bon Iver, it’s the kind of gorgeously simple melodicism that Ocean has always done well.
“Pink+White” is a midtempo groover, one of the few tracks on Blond that has drums and flirts with pop convention. “It’s all downhill” from here, Ocean sings, just before elegant acoustic strumming adds a quiet charm to the moody atmospherics. Beyonce makes an appearance near the track’s end, singing ethereal backing vocals and harmonies over the song’s coda. Co-produced by Pharrell and Tyler, the Creator, it’s another of the album’s more Wonder-esque moments and further evidence that Ocean’s scope as a writer is vast, no matter how esoteric or straightforward.