The wait is finally over; after four long years, Frank Ocean has finally released new music following 2012’s Channel Orange in the form of visual album Endless (not the 'proper' album, previously titled Boys Don't Cry, which comes out this weekend).
At 18-tracks long, not including the bonus-like “Device Control” reprise at the end, the Apple Music-only 'album' only runs for 45 minutes and features the likes of James Blake, Johnny Greenwood, and Sampha.
As with all releases, it will take some time to gain a fully formed opinion, so instead of a full review, here are our first impressions of each track.
1. Device Control
Lasting for just 30-seconds, the Wolfgang Tillmans track briefly introduces the album with an electric voice that contrasts with the following tracks. We’ll come back to this one later.
2. At Your Best (You Are Love) (feat. James Blake, Jonny Greenwood, and the London Contemporary Orchestra)
Coming straight out of the more electric “Device Control” into Ocean’s delicate cover of The Isley Brothers is quite stunning . Once the abrasion wears off, the incredible emotional power of Ocean's voice takes over, leaving a spine-tingling torn-back track. Despite having been covered numerous times, including a popular take by Aaliyah, Ocean’s feels wholly original, helped by some lovely string arrangements by the great Johnny Greenwood, played perfectly by the London Contemporary Orchestra.
3. Alabama (feat. Sampha and Jazmine Sullivan)
Every track Sampha features on he makes a significant impact. Playing off Ocean’s unapologetically romantic lyrics, Sampha’s haunting vocals cut through the bouncing synth, Jazmine Sullivan’s voice adding a lovely backing. Unfortunately, it’s all just too short, lasting for little over a minute.
4. Mine (feat. Arca)
"Mine" acts as an interlude rather than a 'proper' track, Ocean repeating “How come the ecstasy always depresses me so?”
No chorus, just the ramblings of a lost man, asking whether you’re a “Roger or Novak?” Ocean shows off his versatile flow throughout the first half of this downbeat number. However, it’s when he starts singing that the magic happens, the build leading to Ocean's emotive high-pitched delivery of: “Life would feel 1995 / You’d think there were airstrikes on outside”. Another great track showing yet more evolution since Channel Orange.
6. Ambience 001: In A Certain Way
An incredibly brief interlude you wouldn't know existed without the tracklisting.
7. Commes Des Garcons
The most upbeat track so far, it's another short track, finishing with high hats fading out. Probably the first one that could quite happily sit on Channel Orange.
8. Ambience 002: Honeybaby
Another very short interlude.
09. Wither (feat. Alex G and Jazime Sullivan)
A subdued number, with Ocean singer over a slowly plucked guitar. Again, his vocals sound strong, with lovely lyrics featuring flowery imagery (“Hope a garden grows where we dance this afternoon / Hope our children walk by spring and flowers bloom”). It’s heartfelt and relatively short, yet, this time, the length suits the song.
10. Hublots (feat. Jazmine Sullivan)
Attempting to work out where this track begins and ends is quite difficult; really, it’s just another short, Daft Punk sampling, interlude.
11. In Here Somewhere
Ocean and a guest vocalist sing over an 80s-like synth, things dropping into a muted sample playing underneath high hats, reverberating clicks, and a heavy kick drum. This mid-album spree of short numbers sounds slightly messy: a collage of sporadic sounds that only works in context of the whole album. ,
12. Slide On Me (feat. Alex G)
A proper track, at last. Guitars twang, bouncing off low industrial drums and the occasional heavy bass. Ocean’s voice is restrained, multiple vocal tracks overtaking each other as everything glides along until a spacey synthesiser breaks things up, leading seamlessly into “Sideways”.
Ocean starts rapping over a barely existent synth before heavy kick drum, followed by high-hats that break everything up. Lazy synth continues underneath as things groove along, as they have done since the album started.
Choral singing comes next, led by Ocean, all over a minimal bass line, offering another misdirection on an album full of obscure sounds. A scattershot ending of drums concludes proceedings to this short instrumental.
15. Deathwish (ASR)
A hazy number with whispers of a man struggling with life (“This is a death wish / The days of hopeless / Leave myself at the wraths of you”). The disenchanted lyrics flow over another stretch of dark synths; again incredibly brief.
16. Rushes (feat. Alex G and Jazime Sullivan)
Again, heartbroken ramblings build into something quite beautiful. A guitar is strummed as more sounds are thrown under Ocean’s voice, sharing more in common with “Wiseman” than any other Ocean track to date. Instead of continuing along with the same sounds, an interlude of bizarre, reversed drums breaks through, injecting pace and summery sounds; a right angle to what came before
17. Rushes To
Sharing a name with the previous track, “Rushes To” also opens with Ocean singing over a guitar. This time, however, things progress into a stripped back “Purple Matter”-esque number, Ocean showing off his impressive vocal range as he warbles over the isolated, reverberated guitar.
18. Higgs (feat. Alex G)
Ocean sounds more upbeat as he sings over the first minute of this summery track. Moments later, it breaks into fast-paced drums with heavy bass. However, as has quickly become characteristic of this ‘album’, it’s all too short, suddenly stopping to give way to silence.
19. Device Control
Really “Higgs” is the end of Endless, yet the visual album continues into Wolfgang Tillmans’ “Device Control”, a weird house track completely adjacent with the rest of the album. It feels slightly tacked on, just to give things a weird ending.
So, there we have it, Frank Ocean’s completely scattershot record. There’s probably a good reason things aren’t broken up when listening, as attempting to separate tracks is almost impossible and - when listened to broken up - Endless doesn’t work nearly as well.
That doesn’t mean Endless isn’t enjoyable - there are more than a handfull of fantastic moments - but it will take repeated listens as a whole record to really engage properly.
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