It’s the moment you feared might never happen: Frank Ocean has finally released a new album, a “visual album” called ‘Endless’ no less. It was released via Apple Music earlier today following the completion of the R&B singer’s mysterious livestream.
And just like two buses coming at once, he’s got another on the way this weekend too, apparently.
So, was it all worth the wait? We dissect this first record track-by-track to find out.
A very short sample of a robotic voice with a German twang, thought to be taken from an art piece by Turner Prize-winning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. As with ‘Start’ on predecessor ‘Channel Orange’, Ocean likes to ease listeners into the LP and here he does just that in a very weird way.
‘At Your Best (You Are Love)’
A delicate and wistful cover of The Isley Brothers’ 1976 hit, famously later turned into a slow jam by Aaliyah. We’ve actually heard this one before: Frank dropped the rendition on his Tumblr to mark what would have been Aaliyah’s 36th birthday in 2015. Ocean’s version – which features both James Blake and Radiohead‘s Jonny Greenwood – occupies a space somewhere between the two other takes, combining the soul of the original and the smoothness of Aaliyah’s.
The first proper new Frank Ocean track, ‘Alabama’ opens with whole lines of lyrics overlapping each other as Ocean tells the tale of a dysfunctional family unit. As Ocean’s multi-layered vocals disperse, the unmistakable silky tones of Sampha kick in as he sings the climax: “What can I do to know you better? / What can I do to show my love?” A brief but no less impactful track.
‘Mine’ largely features warped spoken word vocals that showcase Ocean’s forward-thinking production method, with the singer appearing to croon “How come the ecstasy always depresses me so?” over and over. We feel ya, Frank.
The first all-out-rap track of the record, Ocean’s flow is confident and laid-back, the likes of which we’ve not heard since his breakthrough ‘Nostalgia, Ultra’ mixtape. Notable lyrics here include: “I put refugees in Margiela / I play kids The Fugees” and “Never ask advice from him cause what could he know? / Never fuck someone you wouldn’t wanna be though”.
‘Ambience 001: In a Certain Way’
An instrumental that, had the tracklist not said so, you wouldn’t even have known was there.
‘Commes Des Garcons’
Formerly leaked as ‘Seeing Double’, ‘Commes Des Garcons’ is upbeat and summery, with a tropical-sounding, skittering beat and lyrics about a man “dating on the side” and having “perfect bitches” on his couch. Not something we can all relate to, but this will soon be your poolside jam regardless.
‘Ambience 002: Honeybaby’
Ocean certainly does have this penchant for making songs drift in and out in an almost hypnotic way. A lot of ‘Channel Orange’ sounded like you were listening to it on next door’s stereo, and this track is similar: distant, concealed, not quite within reach. Just as it gets in its stride, the song concludes with the lusty line “Like holidays, I get off on ya” and swiftly comes to an end.
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Like its title, ‘Wither’ is an understated love ballad that slinks along. Not the best we’ve heard so far, but prolific indie darling Alex G plays guitar on the track, so that’s an odd but interesting combo. Also in the visuals, there’s multiple Franks, all wearing the same Playboy Christmas sweater. Dashing.
‘In Here Somewhere’
The trap-ish, futuristic beat here is what grabs you. Frank’s vocals are hardly distinguishable but that’s okay, it’s better not to distract from what is sonically the most immediate and impressive track on the record so far.
‘Slide on Me’
The most conventional Frank Ocean track for a while, it’s only at the end, as the synth pitch-shifts, that we hear something compelling going on.
A stream-of-conscious rap from Frank that features the unforgettable line “Sucked a dick long had a swan neck”. The visuals distract a little here though, as Frank starts to build a spiral staircase, which is all very exciting.
A sparse metronomic beat and what appears to sound like James Blake vocals in the background, though he’s not listed in the credits – do we sense a lawsuit?
Ocean appears strongest on this album when the music becomes the focus. His vocals drift in and out here, floating above a bassy organ and another trap-influenced beat. He sings of “be needing my sleep”, which I’m sure many of his more dedicated fans will relate to given how long they’ve been chain-watching this livestream.
His most personal track on the album, Ocean strips things back and sings of having not “felt this way in years” before Alex G’s rough strummed guitar chimes in with perfect unison.
After a blast of a club beat, ‘Rushes To’ – a companion track to the one before – sees Ocean ruminating over Spanish guitar reminiscent of John Mayer‘s star role on ‘Channel Orange’.
Oh what an ending. The trap beats are back, Frank finally reaches the top of his spiral staircase – but then everything cuts to Ocean sitting around as Wolfgang Tillmans (remember from the first track?) returns once again to read out press releases about smartphones. It’s all quite baffling. Apple get a namecheck of course, but so do Sony and Samsung. I’m not so sure Tim Cook will be happy about that.
Despite its tendency to meander, ‘Endless’ is still an engaging listen. On it, Ocean abandons any conventional songwriting structures and continuously challenges the listener, although some may say he frustrates instead. If this is anything to go by, the record formerly known as ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ should be a treat.