Monday, August 22, 2016

Frank Ocean - Endless Review

In April of last year, the ever-elusive Frank Ocean released a Tumblr post with the caption "I got two versions. I got twooo versions…". The quote, with July 2015 as a conspicuous date attached, led many to believe the R&B crooner was finally ready to drop his long-awaited follow-up to the magnificent channel ORANGE. And then silence. A year past, and the only eventful encounter Ocean had with the media came in the form of 'Wolves,' and his small part on Kanye West's Life Of Pablo calamity. Many began to lose faith. And as pressures grew, Ocean's perfectionist state likely grew with it. Now, however, the rest, as we know it, is history. A season marked by endless delays and uncapped promises, this summer sixteen, as Drake dubiously called it, was a dud. If not for Frank Ocean's return, calling the entire third weekend of August his own, we'd likely still be stuck in limbo. But with two versions, Endless and Blonde, to parade through, Ocean fans can rejoice. After the torment of an incredibly long video stream, in which the now multi-media artist meticulously built revolving stairs, the first of the versions dropped as an accompaniment of that arduous process.

Many simply referred to it as outtakes. While they'd be right, to brush Endless off as such would be a grave mistake, something countless people are already doing. In this day and age, where respected artists are taking their work more and more seriously, what's left on the cutting room floor isn't all useless. Kendrick Lamar famously used his outtakes to form untitled unmastered, a coherent album birthed out of the remnants of the magnificent To Pimp A Butterfly. It wasn't slapdashedly released either. Endless, in that regard, takes things even further. Found within the 18 songs, of which no one's quite sure the actual timestamps considering it was presented in one 44-minute stream, are consistent themes, founded progression, and similar aesthetic concepts. Endless is far from a collection of b-sides and more an assemblage of ideas that flow from one reference point to another. This, unfortunately, makes for quite a difficult listen, with 10 of the 18 tracks failing to reach the two-minute mark. If anything, Endless showcases the handful of roadblocks Ocean likely hit when creating Blonde. Regardless of lasting quality, many ideas here are scrapped when their purpose becomes exhausted.

This release method is a double-edged sword though, because while it's nice to hear every facet of Ocean's process, the level of caliber in which he works means you'll likely be frustrated a track here, there, or everywhere isn't longer. 'Comme Des Garçons,' for example, is a wonderful one-minute diddy that sees Ocean take a rather eccentric look at the latest Dancehall craze, while 'Florida' relaxes his voice into a sort of Ambient haze, something that lengthened upon could make for a really entrancing work. Then there's 'Alabama' and 'Sideways.' These two, more than any of the other tracks, reveal Ocean's focused but darting mind. He unravels a singular story in both events, using his classic detailed imagery, but does so with such a rushed approach that it's all over before one can settle down with it. Some might even call the execution of such ideas weak, and they wouldn't necessarily be wrong. Even at 18 tracks, you'd expect a trove of viewpoints, but with how sporadic each song is, many, like 'Deathwish (ASR)' or 'Alabama,' cause the LP to spill out over two dozen fractured concepts out.

However, when Ocean faces a wall and hurdles over it, the resulting, completed works are riveting. The clear standout here is 'Rushes.' Featuring every aspect of Ocean's enigma, the late stream bloomer starts mellow and unassuming, with his scorned poetics on display, eventually evolving around his powerful vocals and sparse guitar work. As it fades you get the feeling it's ending too soon, that is, of course, before the sensational guitar forms a blissful instrumental that closes out the piece. As a treat, this leads into 'Rushes To,' Endless' closest bridge to Blonde's Ocean-centric basis, where it's just him and an acoustic. Earlier though, there's 'In Here Somewhere,' an 80's-drenched schmaltzy track that accentuates reverb to the point where the closing instrumental, taken out of context, sounds like a mix between Oneohtrix Point Never and his Vaporwave alter ego Chuck Person, had they'd been sent through a Trap-flavored blender. Lastly, there's 'Higgs,' which is Ocean's best Hip-Hop attempt here. Once again, it's painfully short, but surprisingly well rounded. Rather than feeling rushed as he was earlier, the confident emcee presents an excellent flow that gives way to some Yeezus-like tearaways towards the end.

What does Endless all mean though? What was the point of the live stream, the outtake release, the stairs? Well, for the answer we turn to the one song I've conspicuously left absent; the finale 'Device Control.' Made entirely by Wolfgang Tillmans, the seven-minute German House track has confounded listeners unaccustomed to the styles, with his unorthodox brand of consumerist mockery. It is painfully on the nose, making direct references to phone brands and their technological push to allow for you to "live stream your life." See the point yet? No matter how dull, how mundane, how trite, one can show to the world their daily events, even if that includes a painstakingly boring and pointless construction project in a warehouse. The point of Endless' visual component wasn't to unveil what his creation was, but rather to prove that people are willing to watch virtually nothing. Throw in an overused but crucial looping mechanism, where a 20-second 'Device Control' intro kicks off Endless and now you have reason for the title as well. And, if you want to get spotty in your theories, the events that unfold between 'Device Control's' critical self-awareness can be seen as millennial melodrama played out for all to see. For an outtake release, Endless does far more than what's required. Some impoverished ideas can't halt what's largely a rewarding work.


  1. Hey I really enjoyed this review. Thanks for writing it

    1. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed reading it, that's great to hear