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Music

Frank Ocean releases new album ‘Blonde’ and gives away copies at pop-up shops

Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean performs during Day 3 of Pemberton Music and Arts Festival on July 20, 2014, in Pemberton, Canada.
(Andrew Chin / FilmMagic)

Frank Ocean has released “Blonde,” his second album in as many days, turning the enigmatic R&B crooner’s comeback into both a test of endurance and an ambitious reworking of the album release.

After weeks of rumors, the singer on Saturday released “Blonde,” the official follow-up to his heralded, Grammy-winning 2012 major-label debut, “Channel Orange.” 

The 17-track LP is available exclusively to Apple Music streaming subscribers, with one exception: Copies of the work accompanied a free print publication titled “Boys Don’t Cry” at pop-up shops in cities including New York, Chicago, London and Los Angeles (on Fairfax Avenue). 

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Dozens of pop music heavyweights are credited on the album including Andre 3000, Beyoncé, James Blake, Jamie XX, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Malay, Om’Mas Keith, Tyler the Creator, Rick Rubin and Pharrell Williams. 

David Bowie, Elliott Smith and the Beatles are also credited as contributors, though it is unclear if Ocean is crediting samples or if he got his hands on unreleased recordings.

“Blonde” arrives shortly after Ocean issued an 18-track, 45-minute visual album titled “Endless,” also directly to Apple Music. 

Fans have spent four years pining for Ocean’s return, which was signaled by a mysterious video earlier this month that didn’t include any full tracks. Instead, the singer could be seen working in a mostly empty warehouse, tackling a carpentry project, as instrumental tracks gave way to construction noises.

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Fans speculated that the album’s release was imminent, considering the video — titled “Endless” — contained the Apple Music logo in the corner. 

Upon the debut of that livestream, major news outlets reported that the album would be issued Aug. 5 alongside a video through an exclusive deal with Apple Music. But that release date came and went.

On Thursday the livestream returned to life. Ocean reappeared, continuing work on the structure he began building weeks ago. 

This time, however, there was music — a full album, in fact.  

Shot by Francisco Soriano and directed by the singer, the black-and-white art film depicts Ocean (actually, multiple versions of himself) building a spiral staircase in the middle of a room. Ocean is also credited as executive producer and creative director of the film. 

“Endless” unfolds as three Oceans work to complete the project. At one point in the film, two are cutting wood while the third aimlessly looks at his cellphone.  

As for the music, it’s an experimental trip inside Ocean’s mind.

Contemplative and free-flowing, some tracks sound like avant-garde demos while others feel like fully fleshed-out records. There are ambient interludes and jam sessions that don’t even last a minute. 

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The singer collaborated with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Arca, Alex G, Troy Noka and Sampha on “Endless” and many of those collaborators appear on “Blonde,” though it’s unclear if he recorded the two projects in tandem.

Hours before the release of “Blonde,” Ocean debuted the album’s first track and its accompanying visual, “Nikes,” directly to Apple Music. 

“I got two versions. I got twoooo versions,” the song opens, in both a nod to his own cryptic announcement a year ago about his new music and possibly a clue about the singer’s intentions with this dual offering of music.

Featuring a kaleidoscope of tantalizing images and a wealth of symbolism to unpack, the nearly five-minute NSFW clip for “Nikes” (with glittery nudity and cursing) is visually arresting.

Directed by Tyrone Lebon, the video combines shots of men and women nude and covered in cash, a dancing devil, a rapping Chihuahua, bodies covered in glitter, a drunken party, self-immolation. It also has tributes to ASAP Yams, Trayvon Martin and Pimp C and a sly reference to the Heaven’s Gate cult, with a person, presumably Ocean, lying on a bed in the middle of a room wearing black pants, black and white Nikes and a purple cloth over his body and surrounded by partygoers.

For some, the wait for Ocean’s return has felt endless. In April 2015, Ocean announced that he had completed an album, to be called “Boys Don’t Cry,” and his reps confirmed that the album and an accompanying publication would arrive in July 2015. A year later, the singer updated his website with an image of a library due-date card stamped with a number of dates — including July 2016.

 

The approach for “Blonde” further helps Ocean redefine the album release process, which has seen unconventional strategies from Beyoncé, Drake, Rihanna and Kanye West.

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Beyoncé first debuted her latest visual album, “Lemonade,” through an HBO special before releasing it exclusively to Tidal.

Rihanna gave away 1 million copies of “Anti” via a deal with Samsung and Tidal, while Drake premiered “Views” via a “global listening party” on Apple Music Beats 1.  

And West, in typical fashion for the polarizing rapper, rolled out his latest album, “The Life of Pablo,” with a chaotic listening party and fashion show for a sold-out Madison Square Garden that also served as the debut for his Yeezy Season 3 clothing line. He sold tickets to the event, and 20 million people tuned into the livestream before he released the album for free on Tidal.

He later lifted that exclusivity and has since been tinkering with “Pablo” in real time. 

Ocean might have taken four years to resurface, but fans may think he has delivered the most generous comeback in recent pop history. 

For more music news follow me on Twitter: @GerrickKennedy

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