‘Endless’ by Frank Ocean Visual Album Review: A Brilliant Ode To Perfectionism
It comes as no surprise (or maybe it does) that Frank Ocean finally put out some new music. Not only that but as if to exceed the constantly rising expectations, the artist followed up his “visual album” titled Endless with another high-end batch of music on Blonde and a magazine, bearing the original album title “Boys Don’t Cry.” Even though these releases came about almost simultaneously, it’s worth taking a look at what each new record separately.
Endless has been deemed a visual album, released in a similar manner as Beyoncé‘s trend-setting self-titled record from a couple years back – the music and the accompanying visuals dropping unexpectedly and exclusively on Apple’s streaming service. The title could be a statement of the artist’s intention – for the album to seem endless – or a coy reference to the endless amount time it took him to complete it (as fans would claim). In both cases the record lives up to the expectations. The 45-minute duration and the 18 songs (not counting Wolfgang Tillmans’ reprise “Device Control”) melt into a cohesive whole with only occasional disruptions produced primarily by the computerized and at times choppy nature of the soundscape.
At its core, Endless a view of the meticulous and painstaking way Ocean creates that leads to great results. But Endless itself is not the result – it is a dissection of the process of achieving perfection. The visuals attest to the same – different Frank Ocean personas are shown carefully constructing something in a warehouse – a staircase that one of the characters starts to ascend, but before he reaches the top, the film cuts to the beginning and then to the closing credits.
Ocean’s elevating falsetto on “At Your Best (You Are Love),” covering Isley Brothers’ track, is the first undeniable sign that he is back at his best. The addition of James Blake and Jonny Greenwood‘s contributions only makes this track better, but it is Ocean’s voice that dominates the atmospheric and minimal sound. Immediately following, “Alabama” is a stirring affair of layered Ocean vocals and the streamlined blend of Sampha and Jazmine Sullivan. And just when it begins to gain momentum it is cut short by the chaotic transitory ramble on “Mine.”
The fast-paced and choppy nature of the record is somewhat balanced out by a sequence of longer tracks at the end the album, including the 9-minute long closer “Higgs,” which is a mess of a track that picks the pace up with a trap beat and constantly develops into something new before again being cut abruptly. “Rushes” and its companion track “Rushes To,” positioned just before the closer, deserve a mention too, representing a notable highlight of the ethereal atmosphere of Ocean’s music.
It is now more or less a universally acknowledged opinion that Endless sounds more like a mixtape, especially if you listen to it side by side with its more mature counterpart Blonde. Considering how meticulous Ocean has always been about his music (hence the delay in releasing new music), this distinction between the two works should seem pretty intentional. It could be argued that Endless contains the B-sides to Blonde – the tracks that didn’t quite make the cut but are still dear to the artist’s heart, yet Ocean’s intention might have been different. Endless is a completely different kind of a beast, in some ways much more similar to his earlier work, but also venturing out into new territory – one that could and should be approached as the hybrid it is, equally worthy of a late-night spin on the turntable and an exhibit at MoMA.