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October 2019

Some first thoughts on Frank Ocean's 'Endless' which aren't a review but are a bit review-y

We play by our own rules. Just like Frank.
Published: 10:54 am, August 19, 2016
Some first thoughts on Frank Ocean's 'Endless' which aren't a review but are a bit review-y
You probably woke up this morning to the news that Frank Ocean had dropped a new album. But not the album you were expecting. A different one. But the album you were expecting is coming at the weekend. Maybe. Reports say so. But it won't be called what you're expecting. But it is coming. Promise.

Confused? Yeah. Course you are.

To bring a bit of calmness to proceedings, we've stuck together some early thoughts on what we do have - 'Endless' - Frank Ocean's new 'visual' album. It's not a review, because if we review an album after a few hours people get mad at us. It's just review-y. It's a review-ish. Look, if Frank can play by his own rules, so can we.

'Endless' might not be exactly the fully formed masterwork that people expected to hear first from Frank Ocean but it's entirely in keeping with an artist who does whatever he wants and confounds expectations.

Despite being billed as a 'visual album', the visuals are from Frank's ongoing live stream and are entirely unrelated to the music. When hearing Frank's pure and unadorned voice on the Isley Brothers cover 'At Your Best (You Are Love')' you're left fairly spellbound. It's certainly a beautiful and much needed reminder of why he's a special talent.

What follows is an album of subtlety and gentle experimentation. There's no production sheen or grand statements. The piece resembles a dreamscape, a blissful meditation on modern society, relationships and technology. While a lot of it is free form in mood and texture, it's without doubt a fully fledged Frank Ocean album. Longtime collaborators and producers like Mike Dean and Troy Noka are here and their work is augmented by similarly minded peers like Arca and James Blake as well as Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood who arranges strings on the Isley Brothers cover.

Rather more leftfield is the appearance of Lo-Fi Indie songwriter Alex G. While his work isn't immediately identifiable he adds to the intimate vibe of songs like 'Rushes' and 'Wither' that are based around just voice and guitar.

The 45 minute piece flutters between ambient noise escapism and proper, actual songs the best of which is the heartfelt brooding of the gorgeous 'Slide On Me'.

Soulful laments like that are in stark contrast though to the slightly bonkers closing credits that see Frank channeling the synth pop of Pet Shop Boys on a poppers o'clock banger written by German visual artist Wolfgang Tillman, where he recites a spoken word love letter to technology including lines like, "With this Sony telephone 4K video is in your palm' and "Streaming life in this device is possible". "Think of the possibilities..." the robotic voice intones. Indeed Frank, we will think of the possibilities.

'Endlessy' works best as a gentle reminder end reintroduction to the unique and brilliant world of Frank Ocean. Think of 'Endlessly' like Usain Bolt running the heats in the 100 meters. Frank shows flashes of his brilliance when he needs to, but eases off the pace to conserve energy for greater challenges ahead.

Give all this a try

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