“I got two versions.”
This is the opening line of Frank Ocean’s new album, which was released on Saturday, barely 24 hours after his separate visual album, “Endless,” came out on Apple Music. With two different spellings — the masculine, “Blond,” and feminine, “Blonde” — the album is a magnum opus of duality: a meditation on real and fake, light and dark, high and low, past and present.
It is also a nocturnal album, with Ocean escorting listeners through the topsy-turvy up-and-down of parties and sexual encounters. In an accompanying post on Tumblr, he wrote that while working on the album he visited Berlin to “witness Berghain for [him]self,” where any definition of day and night is erased completely. As “Blond” takes on the fuzzy shape and sound of a night out, with tracks like “Nikes” beginning in an altered vocal state and ending with pillow whispers, it becomes apparent that Ocean operates in this liminal space between night and day specifically because it is unclear and undefined, which is where his music is most comfortable. He’s never in one place for long, hopping from one mood or scene to another, both protagonist-narrator and detached wallflower.
But while “Blond” is a nighttime album, it is emphatically not a going-out album. Is there such a thing as a going-out album these days? Not really. There are going-out tracks, but “Blond” is an album that is meant to be listened to as an album, in a post-album, pass-me-the-aux-cord world. (You can only buy “Blond” on iTunes in full.)
“Blond” is not hype or lit. It recognizes the party as a form of escape, but also sees the fleeting respite for what it is: fleeting. Like Alessia Cara’s “Here,” it’s not pretending that a good night out is actually good down to the marrow, or that a good night out can save us from ourselves. Instead, “Blond” is tonic for a night out. You should listen to it on the way home.
The first track, “Nikes,” begins with a sizzurp-slow warp of Ocean’s voice lamenting about the fake people who want the real version of him. In the video, strobe lights flash, strippers wear angel wings, and glitter becomes holy water. The line, “Don’t take no photos in the party,” repeats as a golden rule — a plea to live in the moment. But then the video zooms out to reveal it’s all a setup. Ocean performs alone on a stage to gawking film cameras, as if saying that “living in the moment,” or a “good time,” is an ideal that is not naturally occurring but must be constructed.
But, as with everything else Ocean alights on, he drops the subject abruptly and moves on to one of his pastimes: romantic anguish, dug up and held up to be re-litigated in his feverish mind. It’s his favorite nighttime activity.
In 2012, Ocean wrote an open letter on Tumblr that read:
“4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile. I’d hear his conversation and his silence… until it was time to sleep. Sleep I would often share with him.”
The letter then goes on to reveal that this relationship was an impossible one at the time, and that “sharing sleep” simply meant sharing a state of being, perhaps in the same room, in the darkness together. Today, Ocean is better equipped to parse the ambiguities of what happens at night.
On “Good Guy,” he hums in an emotionless, flat tone about a blind date where the balance of power becomes painfully clear: “I know you don’t need me right now / And to you it’s just a late night out.” This line may be the most devastating of all, on an album full of them. It’s not bitter or self-pitying, it’s just brutally honest. For Ocean, there is no such thing as “just” a late night out. The night is messy, complicated, and not to be taken lightly.
Sonically and lyrically, “Night” perhaps most directly embodies the album’s dichotomy. Ocean alludes to the many different faces of a night shift: a job, a hustle, or someone waiting in bed for a lover. And then, at exactly 30 minutes into the 60 minute album, the beat switches and a new voice speaks.
“Every night f—s every day up / Every day patches the night up,” is a refrain on “Nights.”
On the album, the metaphorical and physical night is suffocatingly lonely, but also a space to explore and to build. Ocean starts out as a two-faced boy in “Nikes,” and ends up a man on “Future Free,” looking backwards and forwards simultaneously for “new beginnings.”
So, Frank Ocean now has his two versions: day and night, which he can count on to endlessly answer each other back.
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