Frank Ocean’s new album ‘Endless’ is a confusing piece of work. It’s a solely visual album that’s only available in video format, so to work out which track is which, you just have to be paying really close attention/ The track names don’t flash up, and they all run into one another. But given that this has been four years in the making, it’s already come under close scrutiny (see our track-by-track review of ‘Endless).
Producing the album alongside Frank are three noteworthy guys: Troy Noka, who produced Frank’s first mixtape ‘nostalgia, ULTRA’, Michael Uzowuru, who works with Vince Staples, and Joe Thornalley, who appears to be this 23-year-old from London, Joe Thornalley, who’s since deleted his Soundcloud page as THRNLLY.
Those credits are from information on Genius.com – but weirdly, Ocean’s producer Malay isn’t involved with this one at all, which would suggest, as rumoured, that Frank Ocean has more music up his sleeve. But let’s work with what we have: based on those Genius listings, who worked with Frank on ‘Endless’, and what effect did they have on it? We take a look at his collaborators below, from Jonny Greenwood and James Blake to Arca and Alex G…
1. ‘Device Control’
The opening track bookends the whole album, returning for the final seven minutes. It appears to be about technology and an oversaturation of social media in our lives. The words are supposedly spoken by Turner Prize-winning German artist Wolfgang Tillmans, who also makes songs like this:
The words are apparently taken directly from press releases of mobile phones from Apple, Samsung and Sony, seemingly designed to skewer the spiralling importance of tech in our lives.
2. ‘At Your Best (You Are Love)’
A sublime Isley Brothers cover recorded at Abbey Road Studios. Its string flourishes come from the London Contemporary Orchestra – the very same that worked with Radiohead on their unexpectedly string-fuelled 2016 album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’. The connecting factor, of course, is Radiohead guitarist and film composer, Jonny Greenwood, who did the arrangements – and his regular collaborator Graeme Stewart is the track’s engineer.
James Blake is also in the mix on synths, and Om’Mas Keith – who helped produce Frank’s 2012 album ‘Channel Orange’ – is on piano. Hear the original version below:
The first track on the album that’s all Frank’s. It’s fairly short – it’s got SBTRKT collaborator Sampha and Grammy-nominated R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan on backing vocals. Sullivan features elsewhere on the album too.
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It’s no surprise to learn that glitchy electronic producer Arca had a hand in this. He’s also worked with Björk and here creates a brain-busting spoken-word word track where Frank ruminates repeatedly, “How come the ecstasy always depresses me so?” It’s brief but nightmarish.
French pianist and composer Christophe Chassol is on keys on this track, Frank’s first out-and-out rap of the album.
6. Ambience 001: ‘In A Certain Way’
There’s no info about this one at all – probably because it’s about three seconds long.
7. ‘Commes Des Garcons’
On the most immediate track on the album, Frank’s keyboardist Buddy Ross is on synths, and two of the album’s four producers, Joe Thornalley and Troy Noka take over drum programming. Unusually, it’s also got Frank’s stylist, Rita Zebdi, on backing vocals.
8. Ambience 002: ‘Honeybaby’
Nothing to report here.
In the first of several appearances on the album, young Philadelphian Alex G provides a low-key guitar line for Frank. Jazmine Sullivan makes her second appearance here.
A Daft Punk sample – of ‘Contact’, from ‘Random Access Memories’ – begins in this track and runs into the next, ‘In Here Somewhere’. Sullivan’s on this one, too.
11. ‘In Here Somewhere’
This murky track has Noka and Thornalley on drum production. Noka’s in charge of synths here too.
12. ‘Slide On Me’
Alex G’s back here with a finger-picked guitar line, but he’s joined by some chunkier production from French producer Sebastian. Frank’s keyboardist Buddy Ross is back on synths too, and producer Joe Thornalley is on bass and drums again.
The most important thing about ‘Sideways’ is the appearance of Noh Life, a group of principled Milwaukee producers. Alongside producer Joe Thornalley they provide Buddy Ross’ woozy synth line with an elusive, stuttering drum track.
Other than Frank it’s just Buddy Ross on this one – on bass this time.
15. ‘Deathwish (ASR)’
No exciting new names to report on this one either.
As with ‘Slide On Me’, Sebastian produces this lengthy, Alex G-strummed track – one of the most lyric-crammed of the album – and Jazmine Sullivan lends her vocals to the mix too. It’s very long.
17. ‘Rushes To’
Written by all four producers – Ocean, Noka, Thornalley and Uzowuru – this one’s an electronic accompaniment piece to ‘Rushes’
According to Genius.com, Alex G’s also on this final track alongside Austin Hollows, on guitars. You won’t really hear them if they are – it’s a callback to the intro, ‘Device Control’ and it’s heavily electronic. What you will hear is the return of Wolfgang Tillmans and his creepy phone-related voiceover, over banging beats.