2016, Music

Blonde (2016) by Frank Ocean

This is a weird, difficult, idiosyncratic record full of so many ideas I almost don’t know what to do with all of them. I had heard a lot of buzz about Ocean years ago but, because of the R&B tag, I ignored him.

There’s a lot going on here. Including a narrative that I seem to have missed. It’s far less accessible than I ever imagined, at least compared to the stuff I usually associate with the genres its lumped into, but I guess I should have had some idea of that going in. A lot of stuff here feels impressionistic in comparison. It reminds me of other records in the neo-soul tradition only in passing, and really does feel like its own thing.

I really appreciate how quirky it is. It’s aggressively quirky and feels very much like a personal expression. I want to compare it to bedroom music even though I know it isn’t. It sounds like (mostly) well-edited bedroom music.

Ocean has a nice voice but he also does all sorts of weird things with it. Unlike another album I was reviewing recently, he doesn’t just rely on the basic functions of a harmonizer, but does all sorts of strange things with effects to buttress his straight vocals. I’m not always entirely sure what the method is behind the madness but it absolutely stands out and confounds and provokes.

Too many neo-soul albums sound like someone else. I generally like the genre more than I like other forms of contemporary R&B but I often find I can hear the influences so clearly. With this record, whether it’s neo-soul or alternative R&B or some other thing, I can honestly say I can’t think of too much that sounds like it. (That may be speaking to my ignorance of 21st century R&B.)


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